Finally, in Episode 11, we meet Rebecca Duvall (Uma Thurman) – the cameo last week being little more than a publicity teaser – and as too often happens with marquee names, the star of Bombshell has the wattage but not the pipes. Of course, from Rex Harrison to Zero Mostel, from Thelma Ritter to Lauren Bacall, many stars who were not able to sing opera, as Eileen (Anjelica Huston) quips, were able to deliver Tony-winning musical performances.
Thurman was delightfully inept in the episode’s opener, a short reprise of “Let Me Be Your Star,” and acquitted herself nicely in the closing number, “Dig Deep,” the one original song from Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, which was winningly choreographed by Joshua Bergasse if somewhat frenetically directed by Tricia Brock. Unfortunately, the closer and an unconvincing interpolation of “Our Day Will Come” were all the music we got in the show – the most parsimonious episode yet.
It seems writers Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky took Rebecca’s view of musicals too much to heart, since their script was thin on song and heavy on plot. They did offer some fun repartee and ready-made catchphrases like “Dial it down” and “Buckle up.” There also was an interesting deepening of the frenemy relationship between Karen (Katharine McPhee) and Ivy (Megan Hilty) and the welcome comeuppance that Ellis (Jaime Cepero) received from Randall (Sean Dugan). However, there were more than a few odd moments, including Rebecca’s boyfriend bursting into the rehearsal room and the Houston family neatly resolving their son’s academic crisis.
If the series continues to waver, it could veer from the strong course set in its pilot. The characters are beginning to sound like soap actors more often than real theater people, the energy of the original music is becoming deflated by the interpolated songs, and the visual in-jokes of the art direction are being offset by unusual location choices – does the Brill Building even have rehearsal studios that could accommodate Broadway musicals?
As Sam (Leslie Odom Jr.) tells Tom (Christian Borle), “Please don’t ever do that again. … Seriously.”