“Smash” Series Premiere: “Let Me Be Your Star!”

 
 

As Karen and Dev bask in the afterglow Karen gets a text. It’s Derek, summoning her to a private rehearsal session. Yeah, rehearsal session, that’s it. She arrives at his apartment and they have a rapid back-and-forth about her resume (which she finally twigs is what’s “light”), her experience and her expectations. McPhee does a terrific job playing the naif who’s playing at being the sophisticate. Finally Derek wants to start “rehearsing” and Karen retreats to the bathroom to regroup. She spots one of Derek’s shirts. Changing into it, she purrs “Happy Birthday to You” a la Marilyn to JFK. Or for those of you of more recent vintage, a la Jennifer Marlowe to Herb Tarlek. She leans in as if to kiss him, then pulls away. She tosses him a “not gonna happen” and walks out.

As she leaves, the notes of tonight’s final number begin: “Let Me Be Your Star.” Karen and Ivy trade verses as they and the casting panel converge for the callback, finally forming an ersatz duet as they meet outside the building where the callback is being held. This number is genius, blending an amazing cocktail of determination and confidence with need and desire. It puts me in mind musically and thematically of “The Music and the Mirror” from A Chorus Line and the inexorable movement toward the audition room by the many characters is strongly reminiscent of the quintet performing “Tonight” from West Side Story (or, for those who haven’t seen West Side Story, “Walk Through the Fire” from the musical Buffy episode “Once More, With Feeling”). The song builds to its climax, Karen and Ivy belting a final “let me be your star!” and then a quick cut to black.

You guys, this show is brilliant. The writing is strong, the characters are vibrant and engaging, the music is for the most part great, the choreography and editing are terrific. I cannot say enough good things about it (obviously). I downloaded the pilot back in January and have watched it at least a half-dozen times and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched or listened to “Let Me Be Your Star.” Our sister site AfterEllen expressed some pretty strong trepidation about McPhee’s casting, but I believe she’s shown the nay-sayers that she can more than acquit herself as an actress. My only real critique is the lack of any sense of time from one scene to the next. We go from thinking up the idea to recording a demo to having several songs to having a number staged within the course of a single episode, and there’s no clue how much time all of this has taken.

Who’s your choice to play Marilyn?

 

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