Uncategorized

What is the opposite of Anyong?

Or, Fade in on a Chirl eileen_goodbye copy

Or, How I Learned to Stop Nitpicking and Love the Bombshell

And now the story of an (apparently) wealthy band of theatermakers and the one audience who had no choice but to keep them all together. It’s New Musical Development.

Well, folks, our long, national nightmare has begun. The 11 o’clock number has been sung, the audience is hastening back to their Times Square hotel rooms to upload their bootleg videos to YouTube, the lithe dancers are at home soaking their feet in Epsom salts and watching the DVR’d episode of SVU that their roommate guested on, the ghostlight is all that remains on stage. Show’s over. Smash is done.

Oh, the emotional roller coaster I’ve ridden with this show. I’ve loved it, I’ve hated it, I’ve wrestled with it in a fountain, I’ve murdered it in Moldovia, I’ve acted out entire episodes in my living room. It is the greatest relationship of my life. (Don’t tell my boyfriend.)

It was an often preposterous, maddeningly under-realized, half-baked mess, true. But it was also one of the most strangely electrifying, uniquely galvanizing television shows I’ve ever watched. And that’s why I’ve gathered you all here today.

I think the story of Smash, like the story of Marilyn herself, is a tale of redemption that comes just a hare’s breath too late.  (Although wouldn’t hare’s have longer breaths, considering they’re always running races against tortoises and whatnot? Ugh, cardio. The worst.) Admittedly the first season was a strange mix of All About Eve, All That Jazz and transcripts of Theresa Rebeck’s therapy sessions. But Season 2 really showed some growth. I think, in the end, Smash realized what it was really about: three women–Eileen, Ivy and Julia–who had been counted out, walked over and constantly diminished by the grotesque men in their lives, fighting for their right to joy and finally being recognized for their talents. Smash is about strivers; theatre is about strivers. And more often than not the striving is in vain. But not this time.  At long last, all three women got what everyone really wants out of life: a boyfriend and a Tony. (And don’t tell me you have bigger goals than that because there’s no such thing.)

It was strangely indicative of Smash’s perplexing relationship with female empowerment that Eileen, upon winning a Tony, forgoes giving a speech and instead uses her time to summon Derek to the stage and squee. I mean, I know this woman’s primary forms of communication are thrown martinis and swiveled bobs, but really. Four lines of dialogue was too much to ask?

It was, however, a Broadway fanchirl dream to see Megan Hilty give the Tony speech that she (she meaning I) will eventually give.

Christine Ebersole still has no idea who you are.

 I felt bad for her for a bit—standing on that stage holding an award she’s not yet won–but I realized that she’s got TV money now, and a ton of recordings and while NBC may be less profitable than a banana stand right now, a paycheck is a paycheck, even moreso when its attached to a multiplatform distribution contract. So, good for you, Hilty! Good for you!

But, in general, the whole Tony plot was just more Smash tomfoolery.  The nominees for best actress are Ivy, Karen, Audra McDonald, Sutton Foster and someone I’m too lazy to remember. But it doesn’t matter because there’s no way that Karen or Ivy is going to beat Audra McDonald. I mean, I love Ivy Lynn, but come one. Audra McDonald is a 5-time Tony winner. She heaves an especially dramatic sigh and the Tony committee sits up a little straighter. She is the Meryl Streep of winning Tonys (WHY HAS SHE NOT BEEN CAST IN THE INTO THE WOODS MOVIE YET? Did you see her performance of “Any Moment” in concert?). I have no idea what House of Flowers, the fake musical she’s nominated for, could possibly be about, but I’ve been hounding my LincTix rep for pre-sale to it all day (because it’s being put up at the Mitzi E. Newhouse, obvi).

And Ivy beats Sutton Foster, too? The original Ronnie Moore? (Or is Ronnie supposed to be Audra? Because Karen is Sutton. Although Smash had the temerity to compare the scheming backup dancer-cum-Diva to Sutton’s rise in Thoroughly Modern Millie–a moment in which I had to excuse myself whilst I angrily drank a cup of Earl Grey in the sitting room. Sutton would never sleep with Derek Wills for a part. Although, fun fact, Sutton was married for a stretch to Christian Borle, whose sexuality remains in question. By me.) ANYWAY, Audra has only lost to to Heather Hedley (OH! Maybe Heather’s Ronnie Moore!) and Christine Ebersole (who is probably not Ronnie Moore), while Sutton has lost thrice (most recently for Shrek, so…) but the one-two punch knocks Ivy completely out of contention.

jhud_24601 copy

Guys! What am I going to do now? This compendium of Broadway trivia that I call my brain is useless on every other television show. You can only yell out lyrics from Camelot during Game of Thrones but so many times before bitches start disinviting you to their houses.

Smash is the greatest Broadway fan-fiction ever composed (outside of whatever it says on the back of my headshot.) It exists in a place where a busboy with no social security number can have a hit on Broadway in less than a year. Where you can just wear angels wings and body glitter in public (without people thinking you just stumbled home from Limelight in 1997). Where Bernadette Peters’ doppelgänger won a Tony for Annie Get Your Gun but plays Mama Rose in real life. Where Anika Noni Rose stars in a musical version of Imitation of Life that is already my favorite thing ever. Where Purlie and The Wiz can enjoy successful revivals. Where Lin-Manuel Miranda is a deliciously gossipy bitch and Christine Ebersole has problems reading a list of 5 names.

It’s a place where theater matters so much that its absurd. Where the medium is thriving and original and bursting with new life. Where corporate money and jukebox musicals aren’t de riguer. Where the Tony producers will let you change your number at the last minute if you have a good reason, like Justice. Where talented singers and dancers can afford lofts that would make Felicity jealous. This place is real. It has a name. This place is called my heart.

I know it’s not realistic. I work in theatre. I work for a multi-billion dollar theatre company. I know what it’s like. But Smash is theatre how I always imagined it. How I dreamt it would be when I was a young, fresh faced thoroughly modern nellie and not the dried up harridan I am now. It’s how I will always see my life in theatre: ridiculous and wild and far more convenient than anything else and drama-filled, girl, and lovingly orchestrated and lazily plotted under the guiding hand of Grace Adler.

Speaking of Grace Adler, though… We have to have one last conversation about the homosexuals on this show. How a show about BROADWAY isn’t literally overrun with grand-jete-ing queens like the sidewalk outside of Marie’s Crisis after last call is beyond me.  And what few gays there were were a sad bunch indeed.  Every gay character on this show was a cipher, a sycophant, a simp or a psychopath. This is not a criticism. In fact, I wish every show on television was about crazy, scheming gays. I wish The Good Wife was an adaptation of The Birdcage where Nathan Lane had to convince a bigoted politician that he was actually a charming hausfrau every week. This is, incidentally, also the plot of the children’s television show that Mrs. Doubtfire ended up hosting at the end of the movie. And one wonders why the CW went out of business.

But, for real for real, the treatment of gay characters on this show was abhorrent. Maybe I’m oversensitive (of course I’m oversensitive. I’m an artist. I’m just a pile of feelings with eyes. I have a masters degree in Generalized Overblown Emotion).

NOPE.

I don’t buy for a second, however, that everyone loved the saintly dearly departed Kyle or that he managed to posthumuously pry that Tony from Harvey Fierstein’s cold, limp hands. Kyle was a writer who had an abundance of index cards but no discernible writing. Kyle was supposed to be a fan, a receptacle not a creator, a blank slate reflecting the glow of the klieg lights. And I’m not talking some Isherwood “I am a camera”-type vessel; I’m talking undeveloped photo paper: shiny and white and empty.

Which is why it’s even more preposterous to me that Tom (TOM!) claimed to have really liked him. Tom didn’t even know Kyle’s last name. Tom came sauntering into the last place on Earth looking for some impressionable twink to make him feel like he wasn’t an aging queen who’s career was stalling and whose hag was moving on and he found Kyle. They were fuck buddies. And that’s totally cool. But don’t try to tell me they found love in a hopeless place. Tom is a flat, directionless character and probably a selfish lover.

I don’t hate Kyle or Tom. I just wish the show hadn’t tried to pretend that they mattered, that Tom’s ambitions mattered, that Tom wasn’t just a leech sucking the lifeblood out of his partnership with Julia, that Kyle wasn’t just a barnacle that hitched a ride on Jimmy’s cruise ship of fabulous Joe Iconis songs and ambiguous drugs. But whatever, now that the show is over Kyle and Tom are free to pursue their true destiny: forming a boyband with Mitchell from Modern Family called One Dimension

Conversely, I did like that Smash realized, a bit too late, that Karen Cartwright, at least as portrayed by Katherine McPhee, is a tertiary character at best.  Karen never really mattered as more than a foil or a function of the ever-convoluted plot. And Katherine McPhee didn’t do the material any favors.  Still, while Smash revealed that Katherine McPhee as an actress has all the depth of a dusty glint of light in an artfully distressed Brooklyn apartment, it was also a welcome showcase for her truly lovely voice and serviceable dancing skills. She was blown off the screen by Hurricane Hilty so much that FEMA got its own trailer on set, but alone or in a duet with Jeremy Jordan, she more than held her own. It’s a welcome reminder of a time when the voices didn’t need autotune to be bearable and American Idol’s primary export was singers, and not the discarded snatched weaves of money-hungry pop stars.

In another world, Karen is played by Anna Kendrick with a voraciousness and duplicity that rivals Eve Harrington and Hilty’s Ivy is only asked to be put-upon and noble and human. That is the story worthy of the talents behind this series. For as it stands now, Smash is an ensemble with no center and no villain, just a rotating set of allegiances and a couple of spoken word recitations of “Your Fault”. They’re so nice. They’re not good, they’re not bad, they’re just nice. I’m not good, I’m not nice, I’m just right: Smash was weakened by its refusal to turn against anyone.

Guys, I know what I’m talking about. I make coffee in a Chemex and have multicolored flash cards: I’m a dramaturg.

And don’t tell me Ellis was the villain because I’ll shout you down. Ellis had no agency whatsoever. And don’t tell me Jerry is the villain; Jerry is a collection of dry cleaning bills and a Dabney Coleman impression. All these flawed characters needed something, someone to bounce off, to be exploited by, to fall in love with for all the wrong reasons, to be pushed down an elevator shaft by. If we’ve learned anything from Showgirls (and we’ve learned everything from Showgirls) it’s that somebody has got to toss the marbles across the floor.

Ah, but none of that matters now.  Well-drawn or not, that’s the end of these characters, at least until Ivy and Derek’s lovechild grows up, forms a ukulele band with her sister, Baby June, and invites us all to contribute to their vanity music video on Kickstarter, or whatever celebrity anustarts are using to fleece the public that week.

But for now, we’re left alone. Separate and alone. You can have the garden, it’s yours. For this is the end. But only as much as Into the Woods ends at Intermission. It always seems like the most magical, improbable and spectacular shows come to an end too quickly and with far too quiet a fanfare. Smash, Pushing Daisies, Arrested Development (maeby). I’m sure I’ll find something else to write about, but nothing on TV excites me as much as this show does. True, I watch Scandal with the same breathless devotion that an end-of-days cult watches the skies, but it’s not the same. It’s not as ridiculous, as heartfelt, as much the stuff of dreams.

So this is the end. But the beautiful thing about Smash is that it reminds me that the same truth that makes theater the most magical art form can apply to television. Every moment–extraordinary, breath-taking, boring, confounding–exists for just a flash and then evanesces. But it lives on in us forever.

Advertisements
Standard
Eileen reviews Karen's resume. Lacking.
Smash

Famed Angelica Houston Impersonator Angelica Houston

Most Great Television is created by imagining a very specific, unique world and populating it with characters that can exist only there. Like Seinfeld: those characters don’t work anywhere else, but they make perfect sense together. Smash is not Great Television, but it is great television and what’s greatest about this show is that the characters don’t just come from a different world, they come from many different worlds. In fact, there isn’t a single character that exists in the same universe as any of the others. Smash is put together like a ransom note. You’ve got Tom, who comes from a West Elm catalogue and is just as multi-dimensional. You’ve got Julia, who came from an open-call audition for Grizzabella the Glamour Cat. You’ve got Ivy who came straight from Broadway, gat-demmit, and is better than absolutely all of this. You’ve got Jennifer Hudson who came from being Jennifer Hudson (and as my friend Barry says, “acts better in the Weight Watchers commercial.” Damn. Hurts, but it’s true.) There’s a Smobster bartender! There’s separated-at-birth twin gays! There’s Real Life Jordan Roth! And then there’s Maude!

Eileen is 100% not here for your moderately-priced haircut.

Eileen is 100% not here for your moderately-priced haircut.

And by Maude, of course, I mean the that tsunami of sass, the sultan of smirk, the drink-throwing, head-swivelling “producer” known as Eileen, played by famed Angelica Houston impersonator Angelica Houston. Eileen is on a planet all her own. And she’s the only character who seems to realize that she doesn’t know where the hell she is, how the hell she got here or who the hell all these people are.  Every time she shows up on screen everything stop making sense, which is kind of an issue for Smash as she is the engine of the plot. But who cares about plot?!

What I love most about famed Angelica Houston impersonator Angelica Houston’s portrayal of Eileen is that she’s serving you everything even though you didn’t order it. She’s giving you The Witches meets Big Business all day free of charge and the least you can do is say “thank you”. She took time off from being Wes Anderson’s Vice-Muse (she fills in any time Jason Schwartzman is sick) to let you catch the breeze from her swinging bob; breathe deep.

The Witches plus Big Business equals Smash

RIP Ellis.

I love that she doesn’t even try to clarify any of Eileen’s actions with her acting choices. I read once that whenever Cher gets a script she crosses out all of the notes or scene directions because she likes to invent the character on her own (with the help of a broken mirror ball and an orangutan dramaturg wearing a Bob Mackie gown). I like to believe that famed Angelica Houston impersonator Angelica Houston does the same thing. Safran delivers the latest Smash script and she spends a half an hour crossing out any line readings for Eileen and replacing them with the words “smug bemusement“.

Angelica Houston, master of ropes

“I don’t care where the camera is. I’ll look wherever I please! I won an Oscar for ‘Prizzi’s Honor’ for God’s sake.”

That I can accept.

What I can’t accept, however, is this ex-husband character. First of all, Eileen’s struggle to assert her independence is not an interesting plotline when it consists primarily of her wasting good vodka and being rescued by another man. Why can’t this woman have any autonomy? How did she manage to get this far without a lick of business sense? Why does she think all problems can be solved by striding triumphantly and making broad declarations? Has she been watching too much Scandal? (Impossible. There is no such thing as too much Scandal.)

Moreover, the ex-husband isn’t even interesting in a dastardly way. He’s just slinking around like Gollum, wasting screen time that should be spent letting Megan Hilty sing everyone else off the screen, down the street and into the next cab back to Los Angeles.

Eileen reviews Karen's resume. Lacking.

Definition of “lacking”. Eileen doesn’t see anything she likes. Maybe that cute Thai place down the street?

I don’t understand it from a screenwriting point-of-view. What purpose is he serving? I mean, if there were a primetime drama about my life would you see my crazy ex Clarence hanging around all creepy-like, setting bugs on fire with a magnifying glass and being questioned by the police in relation to a string of mysterious pet-nappings? Of course you would! Because that shit is actually interesting and Clarence refuses to go away. And if you’re reading this, Clarence, don’t. Because I told you not to. And don’t you dare comment. I don’t have time for these shenanigans. I’m in tech!

Standard
Smash

Musical Notes: Episode 1

Okay.  I might start crying at a few points over the next few paragraphs.  I fucking love the music on Smash.  This is completely unabashed.  There are no abashes here.  Unlike the way I feel about the music on Glee or about my kids, my love for the music on Smash is unconditional.  There.  I said it.

True, I could probs go the rest of my life without hearing “20th Century Fox Mambo” and I imagine when “History Is Made At Night” begins at the inevitable Broadway production (or the production put together in my living room by 6 of my gay friends–everyone is Marilyn), I’ll use that opportunity to find the bathroom. But if you try to tell me that “Let Me Be Your Star” isn’t one of the greatest, most well-constructed musical theater songs of the last decade I will shout you down. I will shout you down like I’m Thaddeus Stevens on the floor of Congress.  What I’m saying, basically, is if you don’t like the music on Smashyou’re racist.

Tommy Lee makes a passionate case for the Hilty Marilyn... and the abolition of slavery, or whatever.

Tommy Lee makes a passionate case for the Hilty Marilyn… and the abolition of slavery, or whatever.

Truth: when I lost my job last year, I listened to “Don’t Forget Me” on repeat for DAYS.  Wandering the streets like Fantine, mouthing the words, raising my arms like Evita.  I put it on my resume.  Not even, like, under special skills.  Like “Here are some lyrics that I feel represent where I am in life right now.”  I highly recommend this as a form of self care.

Legit, Shaiman and Whitman are phenomenal and their songs lifted the sometimes rocky, always ridiculous first season of America’s favorite hour of theater-related television to an impressive level.  The other songs… not so much. Two words: “Redneck Woman”.  That said, I downloaded “I’m Going Down” and “Cheers (I’ll Drink To That)” with a quickness, and, honestly, the latter took place in the single most inexcusably absurd moments in the whole season.

ANYWAY, Season 2 started off on a particularly high note. (see what I did there? I have a degree in English.)

“Cut, Print, Moving On”

Bomb or Bombshell?  Definitely a Bombshell.  But one of fairly little consequence, like Jessica Biel.  Or Jessica Alba.  Or Jessica Tandy.  It’s a whiff, a fleeting aroma; a palate cleanser.  The lyrics work harder than the music, but it does it’s job as a transition song.

I’m guessing that it’s the second act opener and McPhee is giving me hardcore “Thank Goodness” stylings, which is saying something.  I don’t like to come down one way or another in the Who’s Your Marilyn debate, but I think it’s fair to say that Hilty is the better belter and on Broadway, belter’s rule. This song isn’t in McPhee’s wheelhouse, but she sells it to me.

“Mama Makes Three”

Bomb or Bombshell? As you might have guessed from my earlier post this song is EVERYTHING I need it to be!  It’s perfect.  It’s a fantastic song for JHud’s voice, it falls into the grand tradition of Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Smokey Joe’s, it devolves into gospel reverie that could LITERALLY GO ON FOREVER for all I care.

What’s also great about this song is that it tells a story with music and lyrics that are equally clever.  It doesn’t have the burden of doing a lot of Smash-related plot development; it just has to be amazing.  Hilty can take it to church (though, strangely, it was McPhee who actually sang at the church, but whatever), still this show has been missing this level of sass.  LOVED it.

“On Broadway”

Bomb or Bombshell? Hudson hits it out of the park again!  Plus, we get an American Idol reunion (P. to the S., bring on Kelly Clarkson and I will literally wet my pants.)  At first I thought that McPhee was going to be stuck backing JHud up the entire time, which I was totally fine with as JHud was devouring notes and snatches weaves from jump.  That said, it was nice to see Katherine get her “Michelle Williams” moment to shine before being eclipsed once again.

“Don’t Dream It’s Over”

Bomb or Bombshell? I kind of want to say Bomb…ish. Yo, dawg, I love Hilty to bits, but I forgot this song was even on the episode.  It just didn’t do it for me, dawg.  I’m pretty sure I used this montage as an opportunity to get another gallon of ice cream. Plus, I’m really tired of sad Ivy. What purpose is making her miserable serving dramatically?

That said, I think it definitely does it’s job, plot-wise.  Plus, I like that Ivy is singing it at an audition.  So points for song choice.

“Broadway Here I Come”

Bomb or Bombshell? Well, Bomb in that it exploded my ovaries.  Bombshell in that it’s an awesome song, sumptuously sung by Jeremy Jordan.  I’m totally conflicted about his character (and by conflicted I mean I hate the character and want nothing but terrible things to befall him) but this song, this song I’m in love with.  It does such a good job in the plot/character development department, though I am not in love with the fact that it turns Karen into a crazy stalker. Is this the only song in New York?  Really?  And are people calling up Rob Marshall at 4 a.m. going “Listen to 3 bars of this song played on an upright piano in a room with terrible acoustics! Should I reserve the St. James right now or do you want to do that?”  Whatever, Smash; at least you’re pretty.

(Notes on the second half of the episode here.)

Standard