SOUND OFF: SMASH's 1001 Bollywood Nights
"Is this the end or just the start?" This week on SMASH the series hit its peak insofar as synergy of story, plot, character and music is concerned - especially the music. Karen (Katharine McPhee) offered up a touching Snow Patrol cover, "Run", but the big musical moments of the show stand alongside the finest on the series so far - at the very least. Yes, "1001 Nights" and "Second Hand White Baby Grand" were the most captivating musical sequences on the show since the pilot's "National Pastime" and "Let Me Be Your Star", seamlessly weaving together the disparate elements of the series and amplifying the extreme emotion into a heightened, exuberant expression of the characters' deepest feelings, thoughts, hopes and wishes - exactly what the best numbers always do in the finest Broadway musicals, which SMASH is ostensibly about, more or less, lest we forget. The eleven episodes leading up to "Publicity" have prepared us perfectly well for the potential plights and victories about to be experienced by the colorful cast of characters as we enter the final triptych of nights closing out Season One - with this one being a superlative standout of the total twelve. Helmed by pilot director Michael Mayer and written by creator Theresa Rebeck, "Publicity" is surefire proof that SMASH has developed into a rewarding experience for the attentive viewers among us - the "1001 Nights" sequence alone so rife with detail pertaining to the entire arc of the characters' journeys on the show so far; and so much more - and a consistently compelling pleasure for those seeking out great song sequences done up in a grand style (as anyone reading this knows, Broadway does better than anywhere else). While the barebones "Second Hand White Baby Grand" was outfitted with merely rehearsal accoutrement, Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) made her big bid for the role of Marilyn Monroe in the musical-within-the-show hit its mark while eliciting every sentimental, sad, sweet and mournful note of perhaps the finest Marc Shaiman/Scott Wittman original ballad yet to appear on the series (which is certainly saying something significant). Yes, "1001 Nights" was the most extravagant joyride presented thus far on SMASH - as promised by show stars Megan Hilty and Anjelica Huston weeks ago to me themselves in a BWW EXCUSIVE - but the heart and soul of the series has always remained in the big ballads - look no further than the pilot's "Beautiful" and aforementioned duet finale coup de tele-theatre, "Let Me Be Your Star" - and "Second Hand White Baby Grand" was a stunning moment allowing a soul-barred Marilyn to intimately emote to us at the ideal point in time, just as the characters on SMASH itself begin to find their own new levels of intimacy in their various entanglements - romantic, familial, professional, personal and otherwise. "Publicity" proved SMASH is set to hit high gear for the Boston tryout of BOMBSHELL that will close out the first season over the course of the next three weeks, but the numbers in this episode will be hard to beat.
That Sound Beyond Compare
Summing up the entire series so far in one thrilling five-minute musical number, the 345 (South) Indian Restaurant-set "1001 Nights" fantasy sequence was the most over-the-top and grandiose song yet presented on NBC's musical drama series SMASH, but it also was among the most ambitious and awe-inspiring sequences recently rendered on network TV - only GLEE's Superbowl extravaganza seems to come close in sheer size, scope and level of all-encompassing production value blow-out. Indeed, it brought together every major and minor character on the show in one brightly colored and beautifully rendered explosion of sound and visuals. From a magic lamp-rubbing Tom (Christian Borle) and sari-swathed Julia (Debra Messing) and Frank (Brian D'Arcy James) to Derek (Jack Davenport) teasingly feeding a chaise-sprawled Ivy Lynn grapes and Eileen (Anjelica Huston) whimsically cavorting with her new beau, Nick (Thorsten Kaye), all the way to Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman) and her publicist flanked by exotic muscle men, the Bollywood spectacular provided the jolt of excitement and effervescence that can only be delivered by a musical series such as SMASH when it is firing on all axels; musical, dramatic and thematic - as it has previously in, for example, "Let Me Be Your Star", "Let's Be Bad", "History Is Made At Night" and last week's "Never Give All The Heart" - bringing every element together and magnifying it all through the indescribably powerfully potent lens of musical storytelling. The ultimate expression of everything SMASH can offer forth to us who devotedly tune in week after week - and even those who do not - "1001 Nights" is undoubtedly a series high for a show positively packed to the brim with unforgettable songs, if, on the dramatic side, perhaps a bit overloaded with soap opera filler (this episode having more than its fair share given the Leo subplot and whatnot).
Unquestionably, more than any other show-stopper on SMASH so far, "1001 Nights" was the fulfillment of the potential we have fleetingly glimpsed that SMASH can achieve at its very best when it bursts into song - with Ellis (Jaime Cepero) even sneaking a ring from Eileen's jewelry box on the sly and a million other details packed into the visual and aural feast of it all. Attention powers-that-be: please allow many more musical moments for Raza Jaffrey in Season Two - he is sensational, as fans of Andrew Lloyd Webber and A. R. Rahman's Bollywood stage musical BOMBAY DREAMS are already well aware. Extraordinary.
Furthermore, "Second Hand Baby Grand" is evidence of SMASH's other foremost asset, as fine and fierce as Katharine McPhee and company can be from time to time in their standout song or scenes - Megan Hilty. Ivy Lynn simply is the embodiment of a modern Marilyn and anyone who denies that clear fact while viewing SMASH is living in a pill-popping fantasy - Ivy is it, no question (and Hilty is pretty remarkably apt for the part, as well). How long we will have to wait to see Ivy as Marilyn in the full production of BOMBSHELL remains to be seen, but the previews of what we are about to witness in the Boston tryout of the musical that caps Season One seems to indicate that Ivy will be taking the title role after all - apologies to Rebecca (hey, she still has that A-list movie career to fall back on (as does Uma))! Ivy's fairy tale reference to Karen and Rebecca's tabloid-fodder friendship was a sharp and poignant comment on not only that specific moment, but also on the journeys of the characters so far on the show and where they will end up - Ivy has paid her dues, and how, but Karen? What exactly has Karen really, truly sacrificed to get the chance to be Marilyn in BOMBSHELL on Broadway? Does all of that not actually even matter because Derek really envisions two Marilyns anyway? Since the pilot, the concept of a young and naïve Norma Jean and a brassy and big Marilyn Monroe simultaneously co-existing in the musical-within-the-show has been a forgone conclusion insofar as a potential conception to at least be explored at some point with Karen and Ivy in the respective roles, but will that ultimately be what comes to pass when the show hits Broadway - if the show hits Broadway? We shall have to stay tuned to see, but the final three are must-see-TV for sure. Coming up: a musical number from Broadway's own Marc Kudisch and the return of Will Chase!