I have a love-hate relationship with Smash. And this week it’s hate. It’s perverse that a show about a Broadway musical continues to shy away from Broadway music – and some weeks, any type of music. Last night’s episode was musically slimmer than the anorexic episode two weeks ago. This week, “Tech” gave us no new original songs, just three cover songs – including a Marilyn Monroe “Happy Birthday” sung by Rebecca (Uma Thurman), which we’ve heard Karen (Katharine McPhee) sing in two other episodes – and a short reprise of “History Is Made at Night,” which we’ve heard in three other episodes.
We were thrown a small bone: as underscoring for the establishing shots of Bombshell moving into its out-of-town home in Boston (which the cast seems to have traveled to from Platform 9¾ at Grand Central Station), we heard the cliché “Another Op’nin’, Another Show” sung by Tom (Christian Borle) and Sam (Leslie Odom Jr.). The men delivered the song well enough, but no matter how dressed up the musical arrangement, the choice of that song only begged comparison with Cole Porter’s superior backstage musical – for those who don’t know (and if you don’t, why are you watching Smash?), that’s Kiss Me, Kate. Rent it and compare.
Ivy (Megan Hilty) sang the only other song, “I’m Going Down,” originally written by Norman Jesse Whitfield for the prostitute in the 1977 film Car Wash. Hilty was wonderful as usual, but the song felt shoehorned into the storyline. I mean, really, a sing-off? Do Broadway gypsies have sing-offs … two days before an opening night out of town … after a week of tech … while preparing for a major cast replacement … and rehearsing rewrites all day? We don’t even get to hear Karen in the competition anyway, because her boyfriend Dev (Raza Jaffrey) just happens to be wandering the hall and just happens to see her, because the cast just happens to leave the door to the hotel room ajar – perhaps as an invitation to all the other hotel guests to join the party? Oy.
And where was “Stand,” Donnie McClurkin’s 1996 gospel song, which Karen and Sam were supposed to sing? It’s not a new song either, but at least it would have been another musical moment and may have provided some emotional meat instead of the melodramatic gristle we were served on this episode’s plate. Speaking of melodrama, Julia’s (Debra Messing) family have agreed to accompany her to Boston, because they have the time anyway since it’s spring break – which is where I guess Smash songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman have been the past week.
What is unique about Smash is its milieu – and its music. Glee may be formulaic and thin, but at least we get a bunch of tunes each week, even if they aren’t original. The airwaves don’t need another soap opera, but I fear that’s what Smash will become, particularly since NBC has announced they are replacing creator Theresa Rebeck as show runner with Joshua Safran from Gossip Girl. If Smash does devolve into who slept with whom, I may not tune in for Season 2.
I’m already wary of how the show will deal with the obligatory smoking peanut that puts Rebecca into anaphylactic shock and with the coincidental rebound hookup of Ivy and Dev, who seems to have gotten around Boston quicker in one day than Paul Revere did. But as a true Broadway baby, I will look on the bright side of life and believe the sun will come out tomorrow.