Thursday, February 28, 2013

Smashed! February 28, 2013

Enter the Dramaturg
By Stuart Munro

Smash is back! 

Last week’s episode opened with a pretty generic sounding pop/Vanessa Carlton-esque (does anyone remember her?) tune from this season’s new musical, Hit List. Somehow, between the season premier and this week, Karen has managed to not only record a few demos for the show, but is referring to a role in it as “my character.” I’m not exactly sure how we got here, but I’m willing to roll with it. The song doesn’t have the kick that the premiere’s “Broadway here I come” did, but it’s pop quality actually gets convincingly explained away later on (spoiler: it’s a pop song in the context of the new musical). At the end of it all, Derek agrees to meet with the show’s writers and see what its potential is.

The main plot this episode is, as the title suggests, about a dramaturg (a kind of script doctor) who gets brought in to help fix Bombshell’s broken book. This, obviously, doesn’t go over will with Tom and Julia, who feel ambushed. Julia, especially, takes it personally (since it’s her book that needs the work). Nonetheless, his pushing manages to inspire some new scenes and songs that everyone on the production team loves, but I thought were kind of dull. Still it’s a bit fun watching art imitate life a little as the creators of Bombshell try to improve their show at the same time the creators of Smash try to improve on theirs.

It’s a shame, because if you close your eyes and just listen, you’d believe every second of it

One thing I love about this season is how much more closely it’s being tied into the Broadway world of the here and now. Last week we saw Harvey Fierstein appear as himself, along with references to The Book of Mormon, Stephen Schwartz, and the American Theatre Wing. This week we got to hear music from The Wiz, a show which Derek is hoping to direct in the near future (starring a brilliant Jennifer Hudson), and even a cameo from casting director Bernard Telsey. For me, these references really help ground the show and somehow make it that much more believable. Of course they sometimes get the real life of theatre completely wrong (Ivy gets cast in a leading role in a Broadway show in two days? I don’t think so . . .)

The episode ended with a riff from Hit List song that, quite frankly, I wanted to hear the rest of. Maybe we’ll get it this week’s episode, The Song.

This episode opened with Veronica Moore (Jennifer Hudson) doing an amazing job of “I got love” as she preps for her “one night only” concert, being directed by Derek, though for some reason they’re having a conversation about the concert’s content during an on-stage rehearsal. Meanwhile, Jimmy Collins and his writing partner Kyle Bishop (played by Andy Mientus, who is crazy cute by the way) are trying to get a concert booked at a local nightspot to promote their new show, but without much luck. In a bid to give Veronica a new song and a new sound, Karen invites the boys to the rehearsal to give one of their tunes to Veronica. Music director Tom, however, is being more than just a little picky (despite believing that Jimmy is “the real thing”), and Derek’s pushing of Veronica to be something other than Broadway’s Sweetheart isn’t going over well either. When she finally does settle on Derek’s grown-up vision (an hour before show time?) it’s clear that Jennifer Hudson is not up to the challenge. She doesn’t know how to move on stage (especially around dancers), and has almost no sex appeal. It’s a shame, because if you close your eyes and just listen, you’d believe every second of it, especially when she sings Jimmy and Kyle’s new song, “I can’t let go” (which is pretty fantastic). Lucky for them, the concert’s being broadcast on BRAVO!

Across the city at NYU, Julia thinks she’s been asked by the dramaturg Peter to speak to his acting class (apparently he’s an acting teacher too?), but it turns out she’s there to watch the class present one of the rewrites for Bombshell (but don’t worry, the names have been changed . . . Marilyn is now Mary. Clever, right?) Julia doesn’t take it well, but nevertheless, she has an (out of nowhere really) epiphany that she can’t fix her book on her own. And when she finally does come up with a solution to make Marilyn a stronger character? She decides to make every scene from the point of view of one of the men in Marilyn’s life . . . I’m confused.

I hope we never ever hear his name again. Ever.

The legal troubles for Bombshell are slowly getting worked out, but Angelica Houston’s Eileen Rand becomes little more than a sad woman who basically begs her ex-financier and ex-boyfriend Nick to sleep with her when he suddenly shows up to turn himself in. Eileen is forced to back out as producer, and her sleaze of an ex-husband takes over for her. It turns out getting Eileen in legal trouble has all been a scheme orchestrated by last season’s waste of a character, Ellis. I hope we never ever hear his name again. Ever.

So much of this episode is dedicated to Veronica’s concert that I found myself constantly wondering what Smash was even about any more, which is really too bad. The first three episodes were finally showing some direction. To have lost it so soon is just disappointing. Smash isn’t just trying to win back its old audience, it’s trying to attract a new one – in so many ways we’ve completely started over that a new viewer could come in not having seen last season and still get it. I don’t know how much that’s a good thing. Some of the characters seem to be thought out (Tom, for example, seems completely real to me, though I suspect that has more to do with Christian Borle than anything; and even Jimmy, with his dark, drug addicted past and intense desire for Karen seems to make sense, though again I suspect we have the actor to thank). But others, like Ivy and Karen and Julia, seem to have no real centre. I don’t know where they’re going, what they’re thinking. They could do almost anything and it wouldn’t surprise me because I still don’t know them.

There are only a few musical moments in this episode, but one that works exceptionally well is the treatment of Billy Joel’s “Everybody loves you now” about two-thirds of the way through. It starts as a voiceover by Jimmy, transitions to being sung by Kyle as he looks for his missing writing partner, then to Veronica as she struggles to figure out what she wants, and serves as background for a few other scenes as well. Not only does the movement of it work, its lyrics (surprisingly for Smash) actually fit the scenario as well. So kudos there.

Sadly though, I never got my song from last week.

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