SOUND OFF: Another Op'nin', Another SMASH
Kicking off the plot-packed night, Cole Porter's classic KISS ME, KATE showbiz paean "Another Op'nin', Another Show" was given a full-bodied and exciting rendition by Christian Borle - with a gloriously, sensitively accentuated and realized arrangement courtesy of SMASH songwriter Marc Shaiman; seemingly channeling Barbra Streisand and Peter Matz and making subtle SMASH references all the while - and, with that, the SMASH train left Manhattan and hit Boston for the tryout of the musical-within-the-series, BOMBSHELL. While Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman) may play (or prey on) the director of the show, Derek (Jack Davenport), better than she plays her actual role in the musical - Marilyn Monroe - she is not the only member of the rich and varied ensemble on SMASH to be playing around or to be getting played (or both) - or hitting the occasional wrong note or two, either. Yes, "Tech" covered a lot of characters and a lot of ground - from New York to Boston (if not Philly or Baltimo') - and we at long last got our first glimpse of what the finished BOMBSHELL will ultimately look like onstage; with requisite regalia that we have been deprived of thus far, besides in the illustrious envisioning of the numbers in rehearsal as seen through Derek's eyes we have been shown. "The Twentieth Century Fox Mambo" was fully realized, as was a decadent, GREASE-esque "History Is Made At Night" placed atop a pink Caddilac overlooking the Hollywoodland sign - pure 50s kitsch. Yet, the thrills of "Tech" did not end with the BOMBSHELL snippets or the big Broadway opening - nor even with Megan Hilty's soulful and big-voiced Mary J. Blige cover, "I'm Goin' Down" - for this was a story-centric show with lots of plot points developed, touched upon, created and/or explored anew and, in true expected characteristic SMASH soap opera (soap musical?) style, twisted and turned, too. Even the most ardent and attentive of fans could not have expected that final twist of a boozy betrayal sure to result in major fireworks for not only Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Dev (Raza Jaffrey)'s relationship, but also Ivy (Megan Hilty) and Derek's rocky road that has hit a final roadblock with his Rebecca Duvall tryst. Tom (Christian Borle) and Julia (Debra Messing) spent the week apart, which gave Tom more time with his new paramour, but Julia's rekindling of her relationship with her erstwhile spouse, Frank (Brian D'Arcy James), will hopefully give her strength in the face of the last minute rehiring of her former fling - the fly in her familial ointment, as it were - Michael Swift (Will Chase). After all, BOMBSHELL needs a Joe DiMaggio as much as it needs a book writer and lyricist, so both will have to somehow co-exist for the show-within-SMASH to have a fighting chance. Although, what BOMBSHELL does not necessarily need is Rebecca Duvall, as is becoming increasingly clear, her somewhat convincing "Happy Birthday To You" aside. Where does that leave Karen and Ivy should see unceremoniously depart, as she seems to do judging from the preview of next week's episode? With only two episodes left in Season One, the threads are being wrapped up into what is shaping up to be a pleasingly complex and colorful tapestry.
It's Goin' Down
In the great tradition of Broadway lore, the out of town tryout is a hallowed and instructive part in the process of a developing musical such as the one depicted on SMASH - the seemingly cubist Marilyn Monroe montage extravaganza called BOMBSHELL. Currently starring the difficult and dubious stunt-cast movie star Rebecca Duvall, the undercurrent of the main storyline of SMASH clearly remains as it was in the pilot episode - who will end up actually playing Marilyn on opening night? It certainly won't be Rebecca - how could it? Furthermore, given Derek's stylish and impressionistic rendering of the bio-musical as seen onstage in the sequences so far, can the conceit somehow conceivably contain more than one Marilyn telling the storied tale of her iconic rise to fame and fortune and also her sad, torturous, untimely fall? No, Rebecca Duvall will not be the actress opening in BOMBSHELL, even in its Boston tryout - it would betray everything set up so far about the twists of fate and timing of destiny that is so oddly elemental to live theatre and what makes Broadway the most exciting, dangerous, trying and fulfilling of all art-forms, now or ever. While many of SMASH's naysayers have lobbed libraries full of criticism and snooty show analysis and discussion, those that have kept the faith in the series to ultimately fulfill its exceptional - and still, even thirteen episodes in - and ever-expanding potential was given a boost by the developments not only tonight, but also what we can assumedly anticipate next. Yes, the song sequences are always the best parts of each and every episode, yet the writing on "Tech" was stronger than usual and the lesser focus on musical material was a breath of fresh air given the smoke and mirrors we can justifiably envision in the final, flashy weeks. Generously providing Derek and Julia the lion's share of dramatic grist to chew on, but, also, some surprisingly effective and enjoyable rapport-building with Karen and Ivy, the "Tech" episode also managed to offer up a twist or two none of us could have expected and reminded us that nothing is off limits in this universe. Spiked smoothies notwithstanding, the fallout from the triptych of affairs involving the main players of the series should provide dramatically rife circumstances for the conclusory episodes and satisfying play-out to Season One.
Sure, Julia's refusal to participate in the musical's out-of-town development any further (or at all) should Michael Swift become back involved with BOMBSHELL seemed pathologically selfish and self-destructive - as did the simple fact she was not participating yet to begin with - which is really, really saying something when it comes to a character as complicated and blindly emotional as Julia is, but to act in such a manner as she did and continually does, wantonly throwing the prospects of BOMBSHELL into the wind and everyone's fate involved along with it, called for Eileen (Anjelica Huston) to throw a drink in her face, as is the increasingly strong and empowered producer is wont to do to her adversaries (even momentary ones); if not a well-placed punch. Yet, Messing makes Julia astonishingly sympathetic despite the heinous, obnoxiously self-serving actions her character continually - and stiflingly so - chooses to enact. Most importantly, though: what will the return of Will Chase spell for the musical component of SMASH - shall we receive another standout duet to go along with "Mr. And Mrs. Smith" and "History Is Made At Night"? Pretty please? Or, will Julia write Joe DiMaggio another solo stunner on the level of "On Lexington & 52nd Street"? What about the rest of BOMBSHELL itself yet to be seen - will Karen play the young, naïve Norma Jean, as seems so destined to be, or will Ivy take it all and be the one true Marilyn? All of these questions can, should and hopefully will be answered in the next two weeks, but, as "Tech" thankfully stood as solid, undeniably proof of, SMASH has many more hands to play and has barely shown us any of its cards that could come into play before the final round.
At the center of SMASH we have two tremendous, strikingly disparate (and increasingly desperate) divas in the form of Karen and Ivy - each embodying the equally important sides of the myth, memory, image and reality of Marilyn Monroe - but we also have a fabulous score that they will be singing in this show-within-the-show, BOMBSHELL, so the possibilities of extravagent ultimate expressions of the songs we have heard so far (and, perhaps even more so, the handful we have not had the pleasure to experience yet) will offer the opportunity for major pay-offs to rival the most memorable and multi-layered musical moments we have seen so far. This is the time to take a deep breath if there ever were any - the next two weeks promise to be big. Plus, will Julia relent and find the first train to Boston come this time next week or will BOMBSHELL go book-writer/lyricist-less, which, even in soapy SMASH-land, is patently unbelievable and totally unrealistic? We can already begin to see what obstacles appear ahead in the road to Broadway, but who falls amongst the carnage and who becomes champion as opening night looms large remains to be seen, so let us cross our fingers our favorites make it to the finish line and that BOMBSHELL makes it out of Boston.
Two weeks to go before the BOMBSHELL curtain goes up and the chips fall where they may!
From This Author Pat Cerasaro