Smash 1.4 – The Cost of Art

Karen makes an awe-eyed, 360-angle entrance to the rehearsal hall for her first real, live Broadway workshop. To paraphrase Pulp Fiction, some workshops get produced and become off-Broadway shows. Some don’t, and become nothing. Hopefully Karen isn’t performing in one of the ones that become nothing. The ensemble chorus/dancers eye-roll and tongue-cluck over Karen’s “All-County Craft Fair and Gun Show Queen” resume – apparently “State Fair” is only de rigueur during a Rodgers & Hammerstein showcase. Michael is excited, too, and tells Julia he thinks things are going to be fine and she’s quick to agree that yes, they’re both adults and can be cool about this. A musical beat, and then Michael tells her he meant the workshop. Burn. Julia blinks rapidly and deflects that with enough “great, great, SO great” that she’s only a bad perm and a gay best friend (oh, wait) away from vintage Grace Adler.  

Ivy arrives to the workshop in a swathe of pink with oversized shades and what you just know are ‘five drops of Chanel No. 5’ because the girl’s read her Marilyn footnotes. Derek reminds them that this is just a workshop, and it’s a long, long way to the Great White Way, at least figuratively. Ivy knows every chorus member/dancer ever and Karen is literally shoved to the back of the chorus line on a wave of Ivy solidarity.

Eileen meets with her lawyer to free up some investment money for “Marilyn.” She needs to $200k (a pittance in this city) but only has access to $8k. I realize I’m from the Midwest, but in New York, don’t they call that…rent? Julia gives Eileen the 411 that the ensemble is terrific, Michael and Ivy are sublime. Eileen is more interested in having Julia utilize her moldering art history major and play Antiques Roadshow with Eileen’s genuine Degas.

Back at the workshop, Karen’s taking the “there are no small parts…only small ingénues who didn’t bang the director” adage to the extreme, and gets told to bring it down a thousand. To further emphasize the point, Ivy calls cut and coquettishly eyes Derek and Tom while glaring lasers at Karen and saying that it appears some in the ensemble don’t realize it means “as one.”

Derek is throwing a party for former Broadway wunderkind and current TV star, Lyle West. Derek, Tom, and Julia are all very impressed with Lyle, and it’s endearing. They might be Tony-winning composers and feature-film directors, but Lyle’s on tee-vee – people actually know his name!

Having batted her eyes at Derek to make sure he sees that Karen is green enough to try to upstage her, Ivy takes advantage of her long working relationship with Tom to make sure he gets the words and music, too. Karen’s enthusiastic Iowa bop is moved to the back of the chorus line, and then bumped from the chorus line all together, along with Ivy’s friend Bobby who had the misfortune of being height compatible with Karen. Karen overhears ensemble scuttlebutt that Ivy and Derek are doing the dead, and is shocked, I say shocked, by this turn of events. Ivy uses her nascent star power to have Karen excused from the sing-a-long (I mean, seriously, the way Ivy reacted, you’d think Karen had her own backing chorus of Jordanaires and a Phil Spector Wall-of-Sound rather than just volume and excellent pitch). Karen cools her heels in the hallway, spinning angry jetés and incoherent with rage.

Eileen attempts to take her Degas to auction, where it should bring anywhere from $350 to $400k. When she queries selling it outright, she learns that, while it was a gift from Jerry that he didn’t want back, the bill of sale is in his name and she’ll need his approval to sell. Knowing his every attempt to cockblock her one-woman mission to produce “Marilyn,” she knows that’s a no-go.

Ivy’s ensemble friend, Jessica, finds Karen crying into her playbills and graciously drags her away from the rehearsal hall doorway before Karen can torpedo her career before it starts. Karen tells Jessica that she might be green, but they were all in her Payless shoes at one point, and they’re just being mean because she’s from Iowa and didn’t sleep with Derek to get the role – it’s not like she’s a freak with glasses and a ponytail, or something.

Jessica has a “Mother-Teresa-come-to-Jesus moment” and she and a couple of her ensemble entourage decide to take Karen under their wings and apron and stage an intervention. Give me some Oprah: we’re going shoppppping! It’s all very Pretty Woman.

Derek invites Ivy to his party for Lyle West and then, at Julia’s behest, invites Tom. Julia invites Eileen, and shockingly, none of these New York power players has plans for an impromptu gathering that just happens to be…tonight, apparently. Julia informs Eileen that Lyle is a syndication zillionaire, and Eileen’s eyes start sparkling cartoon dollar signs.

Karen’s new backup dancers brave the Forever 21 horror that is her closet and then take her out to a club so she can demonstrate their training in not pulling focus and dancing in unison.

Ivy goes in her new-to-her Zac Posen to Derek’s party where Disney’s Nick Jonas is grooving Groban-style at the piano as Lyle. Derek introduces Ivy and Lyle, and Lyle would love to give Ivy a barely-legal tour of Derek’s pad. Ivy’s just happy to be there – she’s tired of hand-washing character makeup out of her tap pants after a rendezvous with Derek – just seeing his 1500 thread count sheets would be a revelation.

Tom has turned down Derek’s invitation because he’s out on a date set up by…his mother. The date is a stuffy lawyer, but at least he’s a self-aware stuffy lawyer, and, vis-à-vis Tom, very impressed with his Mom’s Google-fu in finding his dating prospects.

Julia and Eileen – with the bubble-wrapped Degas in tow, everyone will be carrying them next season – arrive at the party, and Julia is shocked to see Ellis at the A-list (by Broadway standards) event. Evidently, Julia sat through The Help and didn’t feel even a twinge of liberal guilt.

Eileen gives Lyle a private auction of the Degas and offers him a course in investing (art and gold bullion, and well, real estate goes without saying, but come on, this is New York and he’s only a zillionaire). Lyle isn’t the Oliver Twist they all remember and he tells her that he’ll give $175 k for the Degas as collateral and the rest for points. He’s quite the negotiator, though, and tells her a workshop does not a sell-out make. Eileen gets Julia to round up the gang, including Tom and Michael – we’re gonna put on a show!

Lyle introduces the performance as a gift from Tom and Derek, and with Tom at the piano, Ivy begins the USO number “I Never Met a Wolf Who Didn’t Love to Howl.” Ivy’s voice is stunning, Julia sings back-up and they even rope in some of the catering staff (they’re all out-of-work performers; this is New York), and even Ellis gets a soft-shoe. Ivy tugs Lyle ‘on stage’ and he strums a guitar and suddenly knows the words. It’s the power…of the music…of the night!

Meanwhile, Derek slips some British charm to a female party guest and Ivy gets an eyeful of it. Hurt, she takes Lyle up on his offer to give her the bedroom tour, birds-eye view of the dust ruffle optional. Unfortunately, the bedroom they choose is occupied by Eileen, who is having some wistful alone time with her soon-to-be shipping out Degas. Eileen tells Ivy that she’s her happiness now. Touched despite his loftier perch atop the celebrity totem pole, Lyle tells Eileen he’ll be by her office on Monday.

Ivy downs a glass of champers and then decides to take a powder (er, not literally Marilyn-style) and heads for Derek’s velvet-roped door. Derek stops her and she tells him she saw him with his hand on another woman’s ass. Derek informs her that everyone at the party is a potential investor and that there is no ass he won’t squeeze, no appendage he won’t kiss, no fanny he won’t plow marathon-man style if it will get “Marilyn” off the ground – he’s that committed. Ivy’s charmed (and who wouldn’t be?) but she asks why he didn’t tell her he was casting Karen in the ensemble; Karen is a rival and Ivy finally has the starring role and wants to feel safe. Derek tells her if she wants to feel safe, she should go back to the ensemble; there’s nothing safe about being a star. Moments later, Ivy is star-gazing out of Derek’s bedroom’s stunning Manhattan view, her ‘vintage’ Zac Posen around her ankles, in Derek’s arms and anything but safe.

Karen and the ensemble dance on one of those apparently ubiquitous empty New York nightclub stages to Adele’s “Rumor Has It.” Thanks to her fellow thespians, her dancing has, indeed, developed in form to approaching synchronicity rather than cheer camp Spirit Stick competition. Yet, like Thespis emerging from the chorus, Karen is soon front and center, belting Britain’s greatest gift in decades to the cheap seats. Let her be your star!!!

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  • D.L. Singer

    It’s the power…of the music…of the night!

    HEEEEEEEEE.

    You know, I was saying to someone earlier today, I came into this show totally prepared to love Katherine McPhee. But alas, it hasn’t happened. I find Karen is a pretty thinly developed character compared to Ivy. I know we’re supposed to root for Karen as the underdog, but instead I find myself marveling at how perfect Ivy is as Marilyn and totally sympathizing with all her fears and bitchiness. Go figure.

    • Suzanne

      I have been very impressed with Katharine McPhee’s musical chops in “Smash” (I think hers was the last full season of Idol I watched, and while I found her talented, she didn’t blow me away like Kelly Clarkson did). That said, I agree. The Iowa and chase-your-dreams bits to her are just set dressing at this point; she feels like a blurb. Ivy, however, is vulnerability and gravitas at once, and that’s Marilyn, baby!

  • D.L. Singer

    Ivy, however, is vulnerability and gravitas at once, and that’s Marilyn, baby!

    Totally Marilyn. She’s the main reason I’m hooked on this show.

  • Brandi

    I’m not feeling the massive love for Karen that they obviously want me to feel. I like her a lot. I think they’re writing/portraying her with *too much* hicksville. Yeah, she’s green and all and probably doesn’t know the terminology such as “light” but for her to be *so completely ignorant* about how much she was over-doing it for the ensemble ?? I think that was over the top. All good little actors have been in the ensemble at some point and know how to dial it down.

    I think Ivy was right for the role, I think Karen in the ensemble and the under-study is the way to go.

    But Ivy lost a few points with me this week, not because of her insecurities — well deserved I’d say, she knew all along not to sleep with him and did it anyway — but because of how SMUG she was every single time she got her way.

    The preview for next week has me cringing for both Ivy and Karen.

    At this stage, Jessica is by far my favorite. Of course, she’s also Angelica Houston and when is she not the best around?

    • Suzanne

      I think they’re writing/portraying her with *too much* hicksville. Yeah, she’s green and all and probably doesn’t know the terminology such as “light” but for her to be *so completely ignorant* about how much she was over-doing it for the ensemble ?? Yes, this. Exactly. I mean, I’ve done college theater in Oklahoma and I’m less green.

      Anjelica Huston = aplomb. She is a national treasure.

      • Yeah, I was weirded out that we were supposed to sympathize with her for not doing her job.

        My favorite character is Ellis, but only because Anjelica transcends character, and is fabulous in some crazy fourth dimension beyond our mortal understanding. LOVE her.

  • darkhawkhealer

    *waves* Hi! I’m late to the party!

    I’m also apparently the only person who actually LIKES Karen and can’t stand Ivy. *G* Well, I can stand her, I just can’t tell if the actress is over playing the role or if she can only work with what she’s given, you know? Why (why, WHY??) is she so needy and insecure and…I don’t even know, I just want to throw something at her and tell her to get some self-respect. I did like the Howl number though, I thought it was fun.

    I love Karen, I think she’s adorable and awkward.

    You know what’s interesting, is I find myself more interested in the ‘supporting’ cast when they’re on screen than I do either Karen or Ivy. The dancers (the one guy in this episode in particular) amuse the hell out of me, and Leo always makes me all wibbly and wanting to give him a hug. (His sister’s in China, they just have to go get her!)