Smash recap: Bernadette Peters returns
Smash‘s imminent move to Saturday nights will be bittersweet. On one hand, the timeslot shift is basically NBC’s way of pointing out that it and the show are experiencing “creative differences.” But on the other hand, this also means that we’ll be treated to two episodes of Smashy goodness this week — one featuring Bernadette Peters, the other featuring Liza Minnelli. The third member of this Perfect Diva Trifecta, Patti LuPone, also gets a shout-out in tonight’s installment; unfortunately, she fails to appear in the flesh because her name isn’t invoked thrice.
Bernadette, of course, is once again playing Leigh Conroy, Ivy’s retired Broadway diva of a mother. (Did Leigh simply keep her maiden name, or does Ivy go by her first and middle names because she doesn’t want people to know she and Leigh are related? Smash can’t get canceled — too many important questions will be left unanswered!) The blond feels like she’s stuck in her mother’s shadow, a fate that could have been avoided had she gone into computer programming or basket weaving or literally any other profession. And though Leigh does seem a little nicer than she was in season 1’s “The Workshop,” she still can’t resist reminding her daughter that she had already won a Tony before she got to Ivy’s advanced age.
Despite this friction, Mama Rose and Louise will have to find some way to get along — because Tom and Eileen have gone ahead and cast Leigh as Marilyn’s own difficult mother, Gladys. When Ivy hears the news — helpfully punctuated by the arrival of Leigh herself — she’s too shocked to do anything besides let out a reluctant “yay” and pretend to be okay with it. Come on, girl, can’t you smell the headlines? Imagine if Liza and Judy Garland had co-starred on Broadway together! This has juicy human interest story written all over it.
Karen, meanwhile, is coping with parental issues of her own. First, her father — in town for a conference about corn or something — surprises her at her apartment, arriving just in time to spot a leather-clad figure climbing onto her fire escape (not a euphemism). Then Mr. Cartwright accompanies his daughter to Hit List rehearsal, clapping adorably after she performs “Broadway, Here I Come” and eying Derek suspiciously when he notices the director’s Fonzie jacket. Karen’s dad doesn’t realize that he should actually be aiming his ire at Hot Young Mr. Yuk Jimmy, who’s got bigger things to worry about than a midwesterner’s genial disapproval.
NEXT: Nooo… wire…. hangers… EVVAAHHH!
That mysterious home Jimmy broke into way back in episode 3 wasn’t Mr. Bumble’s orphanage after all — it was some sort of network TV-appropriate crack den, a house of iniquity where Jimmy used to buy C and D and X and smack and horse and jugie-boogie-boy and blow. One year ago, Jimmy decided to leave the place behind for good, taking with him only his pride and 8,000 stolen dollars. Now the joint’s Engineer — a less-than-intimidating thug I’m going to call Slim Shady — has come looking for Jimmy and his missing money. Maybe he should check that palatial Greenpoint apartment.
Drama! Intrigue! Everything that’s missing from Bombshell, which hasn’t actually imploded despite the simmering hostility between Ivy and her mother. Instead of going at each other’s throats, the ladies have chosen to simply act like boring nicebots in their scenes together. Their toothless performances disappoint a catfight-hungry Bobby, as well as Tom. He complains to Julia that Ivy and Leigh are turning the musical into The Gilmore Girls. Doesn’t he know that Gilmore Girls + theater actually = Bunheads? Julia responds by giving Tom this indelible advice: “Directors use a variety of methods to get what they want. If you’re not getting the performance you want, find another way.” Somehow, Tom doesn’t respond by smacking his forehead and going, “Ohhh, that’s what I’m supposed to be doing?”
Having finally learned how directing works, Tom returns to rehearsal determined to Derek his actresses into submission. He innocently asks Ivy and Leigh to draw on their own experiences — instantly opening the tenuous floodgates that once held back Resentment River. Leigh tells a story about Ivy’s childhood fat phase and laughs about how the producers of her Sound of Music revival wanted to cast the kid as Kurt Von Trapp. Better him than Rolf! Ivy bitterly remembers how her mother responded when she was cast as Red Riding Hood in a theater camp production of Into the Woods: “If you were born with the talent [the girl playing Cinderella] has, that could have been you. But you weren’t, so you’re going to have to work that much harder.” Criminy, maybe they should ditch Bombshell for a musical take on Mommie Dearest. The scene ends with Ivy telling Leigh that she’s all washed up, then stalking out of the rehearsal room. Bravo, Tom — at least it wasn’t boring!
The Manhattan Theatre Workshop Club is holding a fundraiser at the Angel Orensanz Center, a venue inside of an old Lower East Side synagogue. (It’s a seriously cool-looking place; props to you, Smash location scout.) Another Karen performance paves the way for all sorts of minor drama — Papa Cartwright accuses Derek of steering Karen away from Broadway. Julia tries too hard to get back into
Tom Collins Scott’s good graces, not knowing that all she has to do is rewire the ATM at the Food Emporium. Eileen flirts with New York Times arts editor Richard Francis, flagrantly disregarding the Times‘s stringent ethics policy. And Jimmy’s rooting around in the partygoers’ coats, looking for a pretty bauble to give to Kyle for their anniversary. Oops, my bad; he’s actually looking for $8,000 worth of stuff to steal.
NEXT: Cirque du Smash
The real centerpiece of the party, though, is a performance by Ana in her “Diva” persona. Visually, it’s the season’s most ambitious and impressive number yet — Ana sings it while effortlessly nailing some Cirque du Soleil-style aerial acrobatics, along with a bevy of other professional ribbon dancers. Melodically, though, the tune can’t really stand up to endlessly hummable songs like “Rewrite This Story” or “I Heard Your Voice in a Dream.” And while Ana sounds perfectly nice, she also doesn’t sound much like a diva. The song is all gentle crooning, hardly the beltfest we’d expect from a character who’s supposed to be Earth’s biggest star. Plus, didn’t Jimmy just convince Derek to give up on fancy “bells and whistles” like LED screens and aerial acrobatics last week?
Whatever; the crowd loves “Reach For Me.” Important Arts Writer Richard Francis is especially impressed by its star — which means that Hit List‘s team might find themselves reshuffling things to give Ana a bigger part. Jimmy will certainly accept this suggestion with his characteristic class. (Also, Derek just straight-up gives him the money he owes Slim Shady. Can this please be the end of that plot?)
Back at Bombshell, Ivy and Leigh have one of those clearing-the-air conversations that would normally lead to mutual understanding and hugs all around. The twist: Even after Leigh makes a cursory effort to smooth things over, Ivy tells her that she’ll never need her help again once Bombshell opens. Their relationship might not be repaired… but tapping into its rough edges does help Leigh bring new depth to her big, sad ballad, “Hang the Moon.” The song finds Gladys wistfully telling Marilyn how she wishes she could have done things differently, via an extended movie analogy. By the end of it, everyone in the rehearsal room is a wee bit teary.
Once again, though, Ivy doesn’t let emotion overwhelm her. After the number ends, she approaches Tom and tells him that she knows he’s the one who pushed for Leigh to join the cast. As good as that may have been for the show, working with Leigh has been “torture” for Ivy — which means she’s decided that she and Tom are no longer friends. Noooo! At least she didn’t seal his dumping by pouring yogurt all over his head.
Karen and her own father, naturally, end up on better terms than Ivy and her mother. He heads back to Iowa having given the girl his blessing for both Bombshell and her relationship with Jimmy. Unfortunately, Mr. Cartwright also inadvertently lets Derek know that his muse and his leading man are bumping uglies. Yeah, the director’s going to take this news about as well as Rebecca Duvall took that peanut smoothie.
NEXT: “I want my catfight already”
– Intentional Comedy Alert: How great were Tom and Julia’s anemic “yaaays” after Ivy learned that Leigh was playing Gladys?
– “Why are they being so nice?” “This is boring. I want my catfight already.” And I desperately want Jessica and Bobby to play Greek Chorus every week.
– I’m still not totally clear on what The Diva does in Hit List, or even how these songs are going to fit together to form a coherent musical. But I do like the idea of Ana’s part being beefed up… especially if that creates some actual conflict between her and Karen. What’s a breakout star to do when her best friend threatens to steal her spotlight?
– Oh hey: “Reach for Me” was written by Andrew McMahon, a.k.a. the guy from Something Corporate. Can’t wait for his next Smash ballad, “If You C Ellis.”
– It takes days of inappropriate flirting for Richard Francis to realize that he should probably give the Bombshell story to another writer. Then again, you too might forget yourself if Anjelica Huston were working her voodoo on you.
– Kyle is still credited as the writer of Hit List‘s book on the show’s poster. Huh.
– Uh oh, Julia is about to become the creature she hates most of all — a dramaturg. Scott’s asking her to doctor Hit List‘s script, because even after the show’s been entirely rewritten, Kyle’s rotten story is still screwing everything up. Given the twisted history between that show and Bombshell, would this really be allowed? Is it completely and utterly useless to keep asking questions like that one?
– Also, according to Slim Shady, “Collins” isn’t Jimmy’s real last name. Please place your bets on who the composer really is. I’m voting Dick Whitman.
And that’s it for Smash‘s primetime run! Do check back on Sunday morning for a recap of the show’s first Saturday episode; you know it’d go perfectly with a bagel and schmear.