THE "SMASH" REPORT: Season 2, Episode 12, or Here Come the Critics
By Ben Rimalower
Playbill's weekly recap, with notes and comment, of the latest episode of the NBC musical drama series "Smash," about the dreamers behind Broadway musicals. Here's a look at the April 20 episode, "Opening Night."
Well, I have to say, it was kind of my favorite episode of "Smash" ever. Before you call NBC and start the Facebook petition to add a third season, let's be real for just a minute. This week's episode was the opening night of Bombshell—that's been money in the bank since the series premiered. This should have been right in the pocket, right in "Smash"'s wheelhouse, and it was. And the show's writers should be commended, or at least given some positive reinforcement (like a dog who's been struggling through potty training) for an episode that focused on what's good about "Smash" (an inside view of Broadway, tumultuous relationships between collaborators, world-class performances of both top quality original material and classics) as opposed to what drags it down (drawn-out snail's pace soap operatic conflict between two-dimensional characters, pandering to the pop market with clumsily inserted karaoke performances).
The episode begins at Bombshell's final preview. Ivy and her mother, Bernadette Peters, are backstage at the end of the show. So, I guess Ivy's mother is still in Bombshell. When she wasn't on the show at all last week, I just kind of assumed… I guess there was no room for her with all that moody innuendo insinuating insolence in Jimmy's past. To think I had to watch several confrontations over the same issue between Karen and Ana while Bernadette Peters sat at home waiting for a fax… Anyway, that was last week. Bernadette is here now, and it's almost opening night!
Ivy (wisely) is on a "self-imposed media blackout." She does not want any message board chatter getting in the way of her own insecurities and self-doubt as she prepares for her opening on Broadway.
Julia is pitching Tom ideas for their next musical ("Gulliver's Travels," "Lord of the Flies," THE POETRY OF EZRA POUND, ANYTHING, TOM JUST LOOK AT ME!) but Tom won't get into it. He's still mad about Julia dramaturging the downtown darling Hit List when she should have been by his side.
It's clear he'll forgive her if Bombshell gets good reviews, but if it's a flop, Julia's gonna have to try a lot harder than The Very Hungry Caterpillar with puppets ("You've always wanted to do something Julie Taymory!") if she wants Tom to collaborate with her again.
In the meantime, Julia's packing to move out of Tom's place. As she tells her son, who's back in all of our lives for the opening, she's tired of sleeping on a couch, which is weird to me because Tom's apartment always looked bigger than "a swell junior four," so I would have thought there'd be a second bedroom, but whatever.
Julia tells the story of how she and Tom met and how their dream was to musicalize "The Great Gatsby," but they could never get the rights. Her son asks her when was the last time she tried.
Cut to the limo on the way to opening night, and Julia surprises Tom with a first edition "Gatsby" and the news that Ahrens and Flaherty's option on the stage rights has lapsed (Oh my god, totes!). Julia's got a lawyer working on it right away so they can announce their newest collaboration at the party that night.
Tom expresses concern that announcing on opening is a jinx ("Remember our Vegas musical?"), but neglects to mention what's really concerning him, his scheduling conflict; he has agreed (pending good reviews for his direction of Bombshell) to direct the revival of City of Angels. (He boasted he could "nail the noir" to producer Jeff Breson, played fittingly by Stephen Bogardus, who toured in the original production of City of Angels).
Ah, the reviews! The anticipation is killing Ivy! Just when she's admiring her name outside the theatre, she hears some regular people (played by the decidedly irregular Donna McKechnie and Edward Hibbert) criticizing her performance. That sends Ivy into a self-defeating spiral, looking to others for the confidence she should be finding inside. She certainly does not get it from the Broadway message boards and she barely gets it from Derek, but thank God for Bernadette Peters! Ivy's mom, for once in her life, offers support.
All it takes to make it in this business is one role that fits right for you.
And so she does, culminating in a spellbinding performance of Bombshell's 11 o'clock number, "Don't Forget Me," wherein we see Ivy in triumph over the spectral demons of Derek, Tom, Karen and her mother. At last, Ivy Lynn is a star.
Derek is screaming like a cheerleader. He's so excited and inspired. He can taste the Broadway in the air. He wants to move Hit List to Broadway. Good shows transfer fast!
As Tom pole vaults to the stage to join the cast in the curtain call, Rosie O'Donnell leans forward to tell Julia she can't wait to see what Tom does with City of Angels.
Julia is upset. Tom says this isn't about her. He just wants to make a name for himself as a director. Julia thinks they can still work while he does that, but Stephen Bogardus told him, "Directing a show like Angels is a full-time job." Stephen Bogardus would know.
Will Bombshell get good reviews? That is the question of the hour. Daphne Rubin-Vega, back as Bombshell's publicist, has no idea, but she's prepared for all scenarios, and it's fun to see the nerve center of her operation, with six people at eight computers and Bombshell posters everywhere with dry erase marker mock-up pull-quotes. This is Broadway, baby, the big time! But Daphne needs Eileen (as the producer of Bombshell for God's sake!) to make up with Richard Francis (of the New York Times FOR GOD'S SAKE!)—the last thing Bombshell needs right now is an enemy at the Times!!!!
Eileen tries. She brings him as her date, and everything's fine for like five minutes. They're all dressed up and smiling and schmoozing Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman in the lobby, like ya do. But then Scott thanks Richard "for the tip. We got the last two tickets to Hit List." Apparently, you can stop the beat. Scott gives Marc the old vaudeville signal to am-scray and Eileen and Richard are left to quarrel once again over the his article comparing Bombshell unfavorably to Hit List. Before the curtain even goes up, Richard is out the door.
Eileen also invites the entire cast and crew of Hit List to the Bombshell opening, and they all show up, even Adam, Jimmy's it-turns-out-not-just-drug-dealer-but-also-brother, as Ana's date. It's a good thing Jimmy talks to Karen about his dark past before Adam gets the chance to. (Jimmy planned it all with Kyle while trying on four different shirts to wear. How many clean, pressed dress shirts am I supposed to believe Jimmy has??) Karen appreciates his bravery, but she wants to see the new Jimmy in action and doesn't want any trouble tonight at the party. This Bombshell opening is going to be hard enough for her as the former Marilyn. Jimmy promises no funny business. Anyway, Kyle's his real brother now.
Brother-like, Kyle goes over to Ana to tell her to stay away from Adam and when it turns physical, Jimmy comes running over to kick Adam's ass.
As the chorus breaks into a flash mob of the "Dance at the Gym" from West Side Story, the grown ups take notice. Eileen mutters, "Of course, Hit List," and Jimmy and Adam are thrown out of the party.
Defeated, Karen is preparing to make a French exit when Ivy, mid-toast, calls Karen to sing with her. Marc Shaiman takes to the piano, and they knock an impromptu duet of the Sinatra anthem, "That's Life," right out of the park.
When the two girls share a private toast after the public one, Karen reveals that Derek asked her out a couple of weeks ago. Ivy realizes she is only Derek's second choice. No more of that, she's a star now. When Derek comes over to try to take her home, she coldly tells him she'll let him know if she needs him again.
When the Bombshell review in the Times is a rave for Julia and for Tom's songs—not for his direction—the tables are turned. Now, with Tom's production City of Angels just a fantasy in Rosie O'Donnell's head, he's eager to collaborate with Julia on "The Great Gatsby," and announce it. Even at his Broadway opening, he's desperate to have another project for people to buzz about. But Julia (also now feeling like a star) doesn't want to be his "Plan B." The New York Times has consecrated her a real playwright. That's just the vote of confidence she needs to say yes when the Manhattan Theatre Workshop's artistic director offers her the chance to do "Gatsby" as a straight play downtown. As if straight and downtown weren't enough innuendo for one limo ride, Julia asks him if she's sure he wants to get back into bed with her again. Well, that does it. Cue the kissy noises.
Tom, meanwhile, deep in his cups, is alone at the bar, with no one stroking his career ego—this is not how he imagined his opening night! When Kyle comes over to congratulate him, Tom sees the chance for another kind of stroking and asks Kyle to leave with him. Kyle should be checking on Jimmy, but he doesn't want to. I'm gonna wait until next week to see how I feel about this coupling.
Derek runs into the girl who accused him of harassment. She admits it was a fabrication and that's enough for Derek to invite her home with him as well.
Daphne Rubin-Vega suggests that Eileen reduce the advertising budget, as shows do when the New York Times review isn't what they'd hoped. That may be what other producers do, but some people ain't Eileen. She tells Daphne Rubin-Vega to double the ad budget.
"Screw Richard and screw the Times. We're gonna sweep the Tonys! Get ready. We've got a campaign to launch!"
Oooh, Eileen! I'm excited for the rest of the season!
(Ben Rimalower is the author and star of the critically acclaimed Patti Issues now its ninth hit month off Off-Broadway. Read Playbill.com's coverage of the solo show here. Visit him at benrimalower.com and follow @benrimalower on Twitter.)
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