SMASH – The Cost Of Art

When one of the chorus members describes how to approach being part of the ensemble of a show, including showing up in comfortable closes and emerging fabulous, Karen replies, “So, it’s like high school?”  Exactly!

SMASH does an excellent job of showing a world where people are faced with very real challenges, and yet they never lose being that giddy kid who clapped at their first play or got all excited when they first performed in front of an audience.  It’s like high school – but with higher stakes.

For Eileen, the producer, it’s being able to part with a Degas sketch her husband had given her in order to raise money for the show.  When she first describes it to Julia, she says, “that sketch looks like happiness.”  Later in the show, after she has offered to sell it, she tells Ivy, the lead in her show, “I was looking at past happiness; but, now, you’re my happiness.”  Grown up enough to know what she has to do, but still with sensibility of a little girl.

Karen, meanwhile, must learn how to become part of the ensemble.  She may have been a star back home, but being part of the ensemble means being able to project – and to blend.  She has trouble early in the episode when Ivy is uncomfortable having her former rival for the lead role singing right behind her.  While Ivy may be acting like a diva – she tells her friend “I’m not even being half a diva” – Karen is playing too big, until Ivy’s friends become Karen’s friend in an “ensemble intervention.”

Growing up is also a theme brought out with the guest appearance of Nick Jonas,  playing a teen star not unlike himself who started in an Off-Broadway show director Derek and composer Tom did eight years earlier.  We see the teen who just wants to have fun with his friends, and also the teen who can negotiate points before he invests in Eileen’s show.  When he suggests he wants to see if it is a good investment, Eileen rounds up the “calvary” in the form of the show’s cast and creators to put on a number.

The performance of the Marilyn USO number, where Marilyn gives a lesson in how to deal with the wolves – or men – in a girl’s life, is a great example of how well SMASH incorporates music.  This isn’t musical comedy, after all, so musical numbers must seem to rise gracefully from the plot, not pop-up like a clown in a box out of nowhere.  It makes sense that they would feel comfortable playing this number, and when creators Tom and Julia encourage others at the party to play the ensemble and perform background, the choreography is casual and comfortable, representing the spontaneous moment that it is and not a carefully rehearsed number.  That sort of comfort goes a long way toward bringing the TV audience right there with the characters.

We see that playfulness also at a nightclub where the ensemble and Karen let loose, performing an Adele song.  At the end of the number, they are panting and sweating, the way any of us would be after an energetic number.

Both numbers serve to move the plot along.  During the USO number, we see Derek flirting with another woman as Ivy performs, Michael having a warm moment with Julia, with whom he had an affair years earlier, Tom getting to know a man his mom set him up with, Eileen knowing that she will get the check from the young TV star, and Ivy’s growing more into Marilyn’s charm.

The choreography remains one of the strongest points in the show, and the original songs show the full scope of the musical theater genre.  The filming of all of the music is lively, fast-paced, and creative, with angles that put us right in the middle of the numbers rather than leaving us passive spectators.  Pretty soon, we are one of the guests at the party, or at the nightclub watching the ensemble perform.

Much like the character Nick Jonas portrays, we get to see people in that never-never land between idealistic youth and grown-up problems.  These characters are all very comfortable in this world, and so, we are as well.


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JB Bruno

John J Bruno – Producer, Line Producer, Writer John J Bruno (JB) brings almost thirty years of working in the entertainment industry: in theater as a producer, director, designer and acting teacher; in independent films as producer, line producer, production manager, writer and assistant director. Among his featured credits as line producer is Man of the Century, featuring Frank Gorshin, Anne Jackson and Tony-winner Anthony Rapp. Produced on a modest budget, Man of the Century won the Audience Award at Slamdance, and was then released by Fine Line. He was more recently line producer on the Tamil-US production of Achamundu, Achamundu. Directed by Arun Vaidyanathan, Achamundu,Achamundu featuring Tamil film stars Prasanna, Sneha and Emmy Award-winning American film actor John Shea earned Best Feature Film Award at the Chennai International Film Festival and, here at home, won the Best Homegrown Feature Film Award at the Garden State Film Festival. In the summer of 2000, he ...Read Full