My friends, we are ladies and gentlemen of the theater, are we not? I mean, obviously most of us are never going to win a Tony — or God help us — even a Lortel, but we were all at least nonspeaking townspeople in our high school productions of Once Upon a Mattress, and so we understand the pain of seeing one’s name struck off the callback list hanging outside the chorus room; of spending years of your life on a script only to be greeted with a handful of limp carnations and a cagey “how did you think it went?” from people you thought were your friends; of spending two grand on head shots you could ill afford since just the interest on your student loans from Carnegie Mellon is twice that.
Yea, a life dedicated to the Great God Thespus-and-Sondheim-Is-Son is one of hardship and heartbreak, and on some level we understand when those that serve them behave badly: when they sleep with their co-workers or deprive their teenage Carpets of soft Chinese babies to maul or get Katharine McPhee to sing a gospel song because she is going to be America’s first post-racial sweetheart (besides Michelle Obama, that is) if it kills you and me and every other person in North America who has ever so much as uttered the words “Laura Benanti.” We understand, and on some level we forgive, because we are all fucking crazy and crazy people can’t be held responsible for their actions, and that’s why reality television was invented.
But then there’s the non-theater people, like Dev, and in the words of Don Corleone, that we do not forgive. Formerly Beloved Dev, frozen in terror as the camera pans up past his dusky male nipples to his stricken face, nostrils flaring the way they do when you begin to suspect that the irresistible stranger you brought home from the bar last night has maybe, possibly wet the bed. Except this is Ivy we’re talking about, and she just smells like that because everybody has been pissing all over her for the last eight episode. Yes, since their random meeting in the bar last night, Ivy and Dev have done the unthinkable and revenge-sexed all over her hotel room in Boston on a historic site where one of the founding fathers might have ate a breath mint or pooped or something sometime. I’m sure Gore Vidal can tell us.
Naturally, Dev is very reasonably treating Ivy like a leprous whore who bewitched him into sleeping with her when all he wanted to do was coerce Karen into marrying him. Sweet, good, dried out little shred of fruit cocktail Karen, who is so the opposite of a hooker like Ivy that she even stopped her faux-naif Schadenfreude-ing about Derek sleeping with “Rebecca Duvall” long enough to reluctantly lend a terrifying chipper Eyelid her cell phone to remind Ivy to show up at the theater for notes. “Fine,” Dev tells Ivy, unable to hide his disgust. “Go. But for the love of God" (a new character introduced later this episode, who I think will be played by James Earl Jones; it was hard to tell with that big Alexis Carrington picture frame hat he had on) "don’t tell anyone. I don’t want anyone to know I would dip my wick in a ball of cheap wax like you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to throw up about a hundred times, witch.” Smoke, smoke, sign of the devil, sign of the devil set it on fire! Set Ivy on fire!
On that note — literally, it’s a sung note — here is Cousin Debbie, in one of her signature “Beggar Woman from Sweeney Todd meets Blade Runner” traveling ensembles, disembarking from her town car in front of the Bostonian theater. With her as always is Unfrozen Caveman Husband and their teenage carpet Carpet, who has had his hair freshly trimmed in a He-Man bowl cut for the occasion, and who is mysteriously thrilled to see Michael Swift step out from his own town car and dramatically sweep off his sunglasses so he can stare with threatening meaning at Cousin Debbie and show Unfrozen Caveman Husband that his eye has healed very nicely, thank you, and he’s hardly needing to wear any extra concealer at all.
And Cousin Debbie is furious, because this is all Tom’s fault! It’s Tom’s fault that she repeatedly and unprofessionally screwed Michael Swift all over every surface of the rehearsal room, totally heedless of the health ramifications subsequent contamination could pose for say, Eyelid, or any other cast member that might rub up against them with an injudiciously placed leotard, just as it’s all Tom’s fault that the other Joe DiMaggio was cast in Untitled Josh Safran Project and they had exactly one minute to find an available actor who already knew the part. It’s all Tom’s fault because doesn’t he know he’s supposed to be a magical gay sidekick of the nineties, who has literally no concerns other than the health and happiness of his fabulous female mistress, not a gay man circa 2012 with his own thoughts and feelings who can even get married if he wants to? I mean, he hasn’t even told her she looks thin once since she got there! And oh God, there’s Michael Swift again, chewing something. Doesn’t Tom see how irresistible he is when he chews? Goddamn you, Tom, for inventing teeth!
In other news, Derek is still kissing friends with “Rebecca Duvall” and masterfully pretending to be delighted by her mangling of theater terminology and abject fucking terror at the prospect of performing. What an actor! Why isn’t Derek playing Marilyn? A therapist, like “Rebecca Duvall’s” who takes all her calls because that’s how crazy she is (mine takes all my calls, too, because she’s my mother; I’m kind of between insurance right now, is what I’m saying) might observe that all of Derek’s hallucinations of Kat McPhee in a platinum bubble wig are really manifestations of his own projected desire, and his resultant compulsive priapism is actually camouflage for the sublimated panic that somewhere, deep down, he’s a big old disco-dancing, Oscar Wilde–reading, Streisand-ticket-holding friend of Dorothy, just like his father, who is … Sir Ian McKellen. And his brother, who is Graham Norton. And his uncle, who is Mr. Humphries from Are You Being Served. And his first cousin once removed, who is Morrissey. Why hasn’t Sondheim done a Freud musical? It could be a straight adaptation of that Keira Knightley spanking movie in which we didn’t get to see Michael Fassbender’s penis. You could get Daphne Merkin to write the book, since she is the Wendy Wasserstein of sexual perversion, you could do a Little Hans number with the horse from War Horse … oh wait, that’s Passion? Never mind.
Anyway, we cut from Derek’s desperate pep talk to the cast about what good shape they are in for the first preview (in spite of having a leading man who has never done the show before) to Karen showing how nice she is by trying to make “Rebecca Duvall” feel bad about what she’s doing to Ivy. But luckily “Rebecca Duvall” isn’t going to put up with that crap from someone who hasn’t even been to the Met Ball until this year. Next!
Say it with me: It’s the night of the show, y’all! Michael Swift is wearing adult-size saddle shoes, the sheer animal magnetism of which are causing Cousin Debbie to cry bitter Precious Moments orgasm tears as she stares at him through the fly gallery, because every time we see Michael Swift do anything we have to go to a Cousin Debbie reaction shot, like when the president says the word “Israel” in the State of the Union Address and the camera cuts straight to Schumer. Anjelica Huston will see us at “interval” because she has apparently forgotten we are not in England, although to be fair, the last time she was in Boston it was under British rule. And look, it’s Goran the Bull, who broke his arm in an altercation with a bunch of young Lower East Side street toughs about whether San Marzano or Motorino uses a higher gluten flour in their pizza bianca.
And then the show begins! Oh, it is thrilling! “Rebecca Duvall” croaks out the first few notes of “Let Me Be Your Star” with a single exposed leg distinctly intended to throw shade at that creaky old mannequin appendage Angelina Jolie was bludgeoning everyone with at the Oscars. Is she any good? Well, she’s actually acting it, which is more than I can say for some McPheeple. We cycle — rather excitingly — through the fully realized versions of some old favorites: “20th Century Fox (Mambo)”; “History Is Made at Night” (about which I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how the chorus, led by Eyelid, indulging in some truly egregious musical theater sexy crowd-acting at its very mention in rehearsal); that steam room number where we finally find out exactly what the muscular chorus gays are going to do with those towels … keep them firmly cinched around their waists. Sorry, boys.
And there’s a new song we’ve never heard before, called “I Wanna Be Your Smash (created by Theresa Rebeck)” where all the shadow Marilyns, including Karen and Ivy, writhe suggestively on a literal casting couch as Derek Zanuck (oops! I meant Daryl! Freudian Slip … which is the title of my proposed Freud musical! Think about it, Steve!) shudders in showy appreciation. It’s really good! There are a lot of those blaring burlesque horns, which is the sound I had Mazeppa retrofitted to make whenever I uncross my legs, like how Ricky Ricardo’s car horn played “Babaloo.” Mazeppa is the name of my vagina. She wears the helmet of a Roman centurion. If she could talk, she’d say: Why the fuck are you having me speak in the voice of Claire Danes?
And then Marilyn dies at the end, just like in real life, and the audience, who has loved everything so far, suddenly … hates it? Because you can’t end a musical with a suicide, even if the story of Marilyn Monroe ends with a … suicide? And they show their displeasure in the traditional American fashion of not applauding, because it’s not like the discerning American audience will give a standing ovation to just any old piece of crap. It has to be really, really good, you know, like Spider-Man. Or Leap of Faith. One of the featured extras by Tom is very aggressive about bitch-facing her displeasure directly to the camera, even mouthing an almost audible, “No.” Oh, honey, arbitrarily making yourself an under-5 doesn’t mean you’re going to get your SAG card. But keep looking out!
In the meantime, they need a whole new ending (am I the only one who thought the one they showed was actually really good?). Might the creative team have any ideas? NO! screams Cousin Debbie, pointing an accusatory talon at Tom. WE’RE NOT A TEAM! A TEAM WOULD NEVER HAVE ALLOWED MICHAEL SWIFT TO BE BORN! A TEAM FORMED TO WRITE A SHOW WOULD NEVER ALLOW THE NEEDS OF SAID SHOW EMPLOYING 50 SUBSISTANCE ACTORS WHO ARE ALL COUNTING ON IT TO PAY THEIR RENT AND GIVE THEM A FEW MONTHS WITH REGULAR HEALTH INSURANCE TO RISE ABOVE MY PERSONAL HAPPINESS! A TEAM WOULD NEVER INTERFERE WITH ME MAKING IT ALL ABOUT ME!” “Julia,” says Tom, his voice breaking, but Cousin Debbie runs up the aisle, pulling her fair-trade alpaca wool traveling cowl over her head like in The House of Bernardo Alba. “WILL WOULD NEVER DO THIS! I WANT WILL!!!!!”
Well, you got Dev. Fucking Dev, whom Karen is so happy to see after being out of text contact for two and a half whole hours (maybe two hours and 45 minutes, if you count the interval) that she wants to marry him now, because tech is over! The only problem is he left the four-karat Cartier diamond he bought for her on his civil servants’ salary in Ivy’s room? Ivy, have you seen it? No one’s accusing you of stealing it or anything, it probably just fell into one of your syphilis chancres when you were passed out in a semen-soaked gin stupor.
But ho! It’s Ellis Dappledawn, Creature of the Greenwood, skimming across the puddle of pee from Ivy’s john on wee water skis fashioned from pine needles, a tipsy from his acorn capful of honeymead and barely suppressing his glee at contemplating what scraps he can gather, Thernardier-like, from the coming conflagration. The problem isn’t the ending, says Ellis, the problem is “Rebecca Duvall.” She sucks. (Of course, it’s Ellis’s sucking that into this mess in the first place, but what’s a little interspecies heteroflexibility between friends? As I’ve said before, this is the nineties.) If only she could be gotten rid of somehow …
… “Take a powder, kid,” orders Goran the Bull, confirming my suspicion that Thorsten Kaye (to my approval) has brought over his own team of writers from All My Children. And then … wait! It’s Scott Wittman! Tony-winner Scott Wittman is sipping a martini in profile on my television screen! And Tony-winner Marc Shaiman is at the piano! MARC SHAIMAN AT THE PIANO! Are you thinking what I’m thinking? Did somebody say bells? Who are you calling a ding-a-ling? But no! It’s not the Sweeney Sisters.
Rather, Anjelica Huston is going to sing.
Anjelica Huston is going to sing "September Song." Made famous by her real life grandfather, Walter Huston, in Knickerbocker Holiday. Anjelica is crying. Marc is looking at her with such perfectly supportive reverence that I’m crying. This is so, so, pure and lovely, I don’t have anything to say about it. It’s just her leg, and her voice, and her weird, beautiful face, as solemn and eternal as the statues of Easter Island. It is the best moment on the show.
And now, here is the worst, although I have to admit the competition is pretty stiff. Tom and Token are out to dinner, and Token suggests that in this moment of tribulation, they go to church and pray to Jesus to send a new ending that will make the people clap. And Tom is like, I’m Jewish (which, you could have fooled me, Christian Borle, but I’m not going to get into that now) and Token, is like, so? Jewish people can still have to go to church, and NO, THEY DON’T TOKEN, THAT’S WHAT BEING JEWISH MEANS. 6,000 YEARS OF SLAVERY AND OPPRESSION AND POGROMS AND GENOCIDES MEANS THAT WHEN SOMEONE SAYS “I’M JEWISH” THE SUBJECT OF CHURCH IS DROPPED. What is this, the Spanish Inquisition (that nobody expects? I’m sorry). Forget Token, this is Tokenmada.
To add insult to more insults, somehow this entire New York cast of Jews and atheists and gay chorus boys whose fundamentalist parents disowned them when they came out suddenly wants to go to church, and to go on and fucking on about how much they LOOOOOVVE church, and I’m sorry. I grew up in Nebraska. I understand that Middle America is very into church. But is nothing sacred? Can there not be one thing, one single aspect of American culture that evangelical Christianity is not allowed to intrude upon? I’ve given up expecting a true separation of church and state; can we not at least have a separation of church and musical theater? Leap of Fucking Faith?? Et tu, Raul Esparza???
So, yeah, I can’t really get into this scene (especially since I covered my ears and sang “Tradition” at the top of my lungs until it was over). All I can tell you is that Cousin Debbie, who is wearing the Zoe Caldwell chignon she reserves for very serious occasions, makes up with Tom. And their reconciliation is like something out of some kind of Tom Friedman “centrist” fantasy fiction, where everything is everybody’s fault, right? No. Not right. Also, Carpet watches the proceedings with the exact same expression he had watching Bombshell, so I can only assume he thinks he’s watching the new Sammy Davis Jr. number.
At any rate, maybe Jesus really is taking time out of his busy schedule of choosing Grammy winners and de-ionizing the mammography machines at Planned Parenthood to listen to our prayers, because at long last, here it is: the Smoothie of Death, bubbling and fizzing and belching steam. After all this buildup, it’s kind of like watching Titanic, after four hours or so, you just want to see that big sucker go down. And down she goes. “The peanuts!” Uma Thurman gasps. “The peanuts get me every time!” What an exit line.
And just like that, she is out of the show, although she seems so relieved about it you have to wonder if this is a Jeremy Piven–purposely-eating-the-contents-of-a-thermometer situation.
And so we are back to where we started! Who will play Marilyn? Ivy or Karen? Blonde or Brunette? The Forces of Good or the Forces of Evil? I mean, it’s not like we can tell from the size of the girl’s ass in next week’s previews!
If I were Ivy, I would have kept that fucking ring.