Michael and Julia meet on the street outside the rehearsal hall and share a heavily laden look as they clasp hands. New York may be a city where you can get lost in the faceless masses, but not so much right outside the place where you work. Derek and Eileen walk up and Julia and Michael quickly pretend to be debating the merits of going off script.
Karen goes to her meeting with Bobby Raskin, which of course turns out to be a demo recording with a jaded sound engineer. She blows up the sound board and he asks her take it down to 11. By the end of Karen’s rendition of Colbie Caillat’s “Brighter Than the Sun,” however, he’s blowing kisses in the wind like a somewhat coherent Paula Abdul.
Michael and Julia find a chorus-free room for a little slap’n’tickle. They’re interrupted by Tom who looks more embarrassed than they do as he tells them Derek needs them for the break-up scene. Tom and Julia scuttle out and the camera pans over to a hidden Ellis who manages to restrain his Montgomery Burns-esque, “Excellent!” until he’s off-screen.
Karen arrives at rehearsal and regales the chorus with how well her demo session went. Just as she’s in mid-squee, she gets a text that she’s needed back in the recording studio pronto. Jessica clears it for Karen to be gone for an hour or so, but hold the phone, because Ivy has just trailed into rehearsal in the wake of Bernadette “Annie Get Your Gun” Peters!
Somehow, no one seems to know that Ivy Lynn is the daughter of a Tony-winning Broadway star, but the original-cast-recording-collecting chorus sure as hell knows who Leigh Conroy is. The chorus begs for a number, but Leigh demurs. This is, of course, Ivy’s time to shine, and they’re in the middle of rehearsals, and the workshop is just a day away but who cares, because Tom’s already running for the piano.
Before you can say Postcards from the Edge, Leigh’s bag and wrap are thrust into Ivy’s arms and Leigh has conjured a stage through sheer charisma and is Sondheiming her way through “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” I feel for Ivy, I do, but it’s Bernadette “Into the Woods” Peters! Derek must be more of an Ethel Merman fan, because he ignores the Gypsy hullabaloo and cops a squat next to Ivy to ask if they’re okay. Ah, not immune to Broadway royalty, then, just self-involved. Ivy answers that they’re good and Derek assures her that she’s wonderful in the show and Ivy sniffles into her showboating mother’s furs.
It’s apparently bring-your-family-to-work day, because Michael’s wife and son enter, with Michael’s son doing a central-casting-perfect, “Daddy! Daddy!” leap into his father’s arms. Julia gets a stiff dose of reality right in the kisser that she’s been shoplifting the booty from Michael’s family (too vague a reference? Prefer beef thief?). Julia makes a runner, which is unnoticed by Derek who is perplexed by the whole child thing, which Tom assures him is merely because he’s a reptile.
Tom finds Julia sobbing on the bike rack outside and doesn’t need another refrain to realize that Julia slept with Michael. She tells him that she has to go home, and it’s up to Tom to cover for her with Derek and Eileen. Eileen is stunned that Julia would just leave without a word the day before the workshop, but she doesn’t have to remain out of the loop for long, because Ellis is eager to drop the knowledge that the reason Julia’s lyrics are always late is because she’s been too busy making a little night music with Michael. Eileen stops him right there, and while she won’t pretend he hasn’t given her useful intel, if she hears a whisper that he’s repeated that to anyone else, he won’t work on this production or in this town again. Eileen has the gravitas to give menace to that cliché, and Ellis is dutifully chastened.
Julia arrives home geared up for a good cry into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, but I’m afraid she’s going to find herself sadly lacking in junk food as hark comes the sound of stoned laughter from Leo’s room. Mentally and emotionally exhausted, Julia reminds Leo that he knows her workshop is tomorrow and he knows what she’s in the middle of. Yeah, Leo spits, he knows what she’s in the middle of and he thinks it sucks and he thinks SHE sucks. It has all the pathos of that “I learned it by watching YOU, Dad!” anti-drug PSA, this time with added home-wrecking!
Uptown, another stellar (star-studded, even) parental bonding moment takes place as Leigh and Ivy watch Some Like it Hot. Leigh tells Ivy that Derek is charming and handsome and talented and she wouldn’t let that slip through her fingers. Ivy refuses to discuss her career strategies with her mother and Leigh opines that she was over getting the vapors at Ivy’s age, but then, Ivy’s still got one foot in the chorus… Ivy deflects that it’s not nerves, it’s Prednisone (she’s soaking in it!). Leigh sniffs that she managed to win a Tony without any of that and before we can pinpoint the moment that Ivy’s confidence shatters, Leigh marvels at Marilyn on screen and agrees that Ivy should have any right to be nervous, she has no idea how her daughter’s going to pull THAT off!
Ellis and Eileen are at their usual barstools at Bushwacks, slamming back the martinis and brainstorming ways to get the a/c fixed at the rehearsal hall. Theater…it’s so gritty. Nick the barkeep and latest sexy Brit in the stable tells Eileen that he knows a non-licensed, non-US citizen plumber who could probably fix that right up for her. Eileen’s teeth nip coquettishly into her olive as she delights in Nick lending a hand to her plumbing.
Workshop morning dawns early and Karen warms up at the barre as she dithers between missing the workshop or missing a meeting with Bobby Raskin. Jessica and the other dancers assure her that anyone would understand missing a workshop where she’s merely one of the chorus for the chance at a recording contract. Ivy overhears and it’s just one more nail in her confidence coffin.
Julia goes to Michael who leans in for a dip and a kiss but she puts him off, telling him that Leo knows. She tells him what they’re doing isn’t right and asks him to think of his son. Michael begs her not to do this to him again, but before he can sway her resolve with a moist-eyed riff on “Me and Mrs. Jones” or maybe R. Kelly’s “Down Low,” Derek calls them into rehearsal.
Curse that Derek, always putting work before pathos! Derek reads the part of Marilyn as he and Michael run through the break-up scene dialogue. Michael’s line reading of “it’s dirty, it’s filthy,” is so method that Julia goes a whiter shade of pale and Michael misses his next cue. Oblivious, Derek assumes the issue is that he doesn’t have the mammaries for Marilyn and asks Julia to take over. The following scene is so meta-inside-the musical that both Julia and Michael forget about the fourth wall and the scripts in front of them. Julia tells Michael that she’s not his to order around, because she’s not his and Derek is ready to hi-five the room because this is the sort of awkward realism he was looking for! Good show, everyone!
On that sad note, we take five, and Derek worries to Eileen that sometimes a project is just cursed from the get-go. Far more aware than Derek of how much blood is on this project, her life’s blood included, Eileen assures him that the workshop is a go and it’s going to be brilliant! She’s interrupted in her pipe dream by the super who is far more interested in who’s banging his pipes down in the boiler room. He tells Eileen he’s calling the cops and she tells him to go ahead, in return she’ll speed dial all of the other producers with rehearsal space in the building and let them know how poorly maintained it is. The super warns Eileen that if anyone gets hurt, it’s on her head, but she assures him no one will get hurt. Musical violence always happens in the dream sequence, after all.
Sam overhears catty chorus chatter about the CAA agents and their stables of stars putting Ivy’s role in jeopardy – Ivy lets them know she heard too, with a hilarious finger waggle – and warns Tom that Ivy needs encouragement. Sam blanches at a newly arrived John giving Tom a kiss for luck, and Tom uses some of his precious encouragement time to gripe to Ivy about how judgmentally straight Sam is. Ivy drops the bomb that Knicks fan Sam is gayer than a dance bag full of rainbows and Tom would reboot his gaydar if he didn’t hate the term so. Ivy wonders if Tom’s animosity toward Sam might just be some repressed attraction, but Tom’s seeing someone and he’s so not interested. He should probably stop eye-fucking Sam, then. Desperate to change the subject, Tom tells Ivy that despite her undermining mother and Karen Cartwright coming up roses on every horizon, Ivy was born to do this.
The room is hot with everything but anticipation, and Barkeep Nick tells Eileen the plumber is still working. Eileen invites Nick to stay and watch the show and he joins the ranks of agents, producers, and in-the-dark family members.
Derek intros the workshop as the assembled audience shucks jackets and fans themselves. The heat kicks up a notch as Leigh makes an overstated entrance and is awarded with gushing applause for merely showing up as her daughter quakes in the wings.
Ivy opens the show with “Let Me Be Your Star” and her voice is absolutely incredible. Leigh is moved, Nick the Barkeep is transported, and Karen attempts not to pull focus as she fantasies herself in the lead role. The room swelters, the vocals are strong, the story is muddled, and Ivy misses a couple of dance moves. Karen, trembling with delight at blowing off a record deal to be in what could be her first show, falls off the set.
Derek calls intermission and Michael finds Julia and she tells him that it’s over. Julia finds Frank and trembles in his bemused but loving arms. Derek finds Ivy and tells her to focus. Tom finds Derek’s ass and chews it for coming down on an actor during intermission.
The second act begins and Michael finds his motivation and is stunning on “Lexington and 52nd Street.” Ivy as Marilyn poses and vogues and Michael sings the dissolution of a marriage; “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” shattered by a man threatened by the commercialization of a wife’s sexuality and the wages of fame. Michael’s focus narrows to Julia (courtesy of a dream sequence spotlight) and their eyes fill with tears.
Derek gives the company an obligatory great job speech as Tom fields exiting producers who wave him off with an “Eh, maybe.” Karen says Ivy was great as the chorus en masse roll their eyes at her starry-eyed enthusiasm, still stunned that she would blow off the Raskin meeting to soft-shoe in Ivy’s wake.
Leigh finds Ivy after and tells her Bravo! Leigh loved the songs, the boy playing DiMaggio, the direction, the mirror-gleam buff the cleaning crew got on the floors…she’s enthused! “What about me?” Ivy asks. Leigh’s beat of silence is a damning beat too long and Ivy tells her to forget it. They share a stunning mirror shot as Ivy tells Leigh that she’s her mother, but she can’t say one kind word. You know who else had a mother like that? I think we’ve all seen enough of Ivy’s DVD collection to suss out the analogy. Leigh brow arches that Marilyn was a legend. “No,” Ivy counters, “she was an unhappy, drug-addicted disaster.” Perfect exit line delivered, Ivy goes, and Leigh’s bravado trembles as she sees Derek has watched this moment in Leigh Conroy: Behind the Music.
Leigh packs her furs and infinity scarves and gets real with Ivy, telling her that it’s hard to watch Ivy go through this; she never wanted this life for her daughter. Ivy is cold when she tells her mother that that much is obvious. Leigh’s gaze is filled with Patti LuPone sincerity as she tells Ivy that it’s not because Ivy isn’t good at it, but because she’s her daughter. Leigh would spare her that pain if she could, but there’s no question that Ivy’s a star. The premise of the aging star / rising star is cliché for a reason (obvious parallels in the reverse with Ivy and Karen) and the dialogue here doesn’t do much to elevate that premise, but the moment still sings on the sheer presence of Bernadette Peters. Brava.
Derek reads the workshop reviews to Eileen, Julia, and Tom. “One longtime producer calls it ‘confused,’” is the best of the lot. Eileen tells him to step away from the computer and Derek asks if it’s over. Eileen says of course not and Julia, emotionless behind Garbo shades, says that it was too hot. Eileen suggests they need new packaging, new branding, and that CAA was there with Scarlett Johansson, et al, ripe for the poaching. Tom argues that Ivy was terrific, Derek is not so sure. Julia says it was too hot. Eileen suggests they try to sell on the strength of the material, add another piece before the next workshop. Tom refuses to allow Ivy to be scapegoated, problems are a matter of course in early productions, and one actor is not the sum of the parts. Julia says it was too hot. Tom says the problem, obviously, was Michael Swift. Eileen and Derek boggle in the face of Michael’s tour de force performance and I’m stunned that Derek doesn’t reach for Julia’s thesaurus to read Tom the definition of scapegoat. Derek asks if Eileen’s going to go along with dumping their leading man and Eileen keeps her discretion and leaves that decision to Julia and Tom.
Julia goes home to Leo who listlessly asks about Marilyn. Julia shakily tells him that the producers seemed to like it but there were some problems. Julia draws on her gift for metaphor and tells Leo that they’re firing Michael from the role, he wasn’t right for it. Leo answers “good” and quietly begins to sob. Julia holds her son and assures him that Michael wasn’t right.
You know, I wondered how this show would mine new material out of something as iconic and pervasive as Marilyn. “Marilyn” sleeps with the director and becomes a star on her own terms, “DiMaggio” sleeps with the writer and gets struck out. I have conflicted feelings and the only thing I can glean from the conflict is that they’re definitely not coming up sunshine and Santa Claus!