If a Jonathan Larson-inspired storyline falls in the woods (a.k.a. Saturday night around 8 p.m.), and it features two performers who were actually incredibly close to Larson when he died, but never sees fit to actually mention Larson’s name, does it make a sound?
Don’t get me wrong: There are plenty of important differences between Jonathan Larson and Smash’s dearly departed Kyle Bishop. For example, Larson was felled by an aortic aneurysm, while Kyle was killed by a wayward car. Larson, by all accounts, never slept with the powerful theater figure who mentored him, while Kyle totally did it with his Sondheim equivalent. And perhaps most saliently, Larson was a triple threat who wrote Rent’s music, lyrics, and the connective tissue between its songs. Kyle, on the other hand, was a sweet guy but a crappy book writer whose words were too terrible to make it into Hit List’s finished product… until he suddenly became a good writer, mainly due to the machinations of Our Lady Contrivance.
But either way, Kyle’s death – like Larson’s before it – has transformed the deceased into a symbol, imbuing his show with a deeper meaning and imparting upon it the sort of buzz that a cutthroat PR flack would kill for. (In fact, if Agnes had been working for Scott instead of Eileen, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she had murdered Kyle purely for the publicity.) And though Smash’s characters have suddenly and inexplicably gotten shy about comparing Hit List to Rent, it’s obvious that the fake show is following its predecessor’s trajectory precisely. Hit List is going to Broadway after all – even if the reason it achieved that goal makes some of its creative team members feel a bit queasy.
Before they learn what happened to Kyle, Smash’s characters are occupied with business as usual. Eileen’s Eileening away, trying to determine who Ivy and Leigh will be up against when the Tony noms are announced. (She’s gone as far as to invent an entirely new category for Marilyn’s mom and Ivy’s work in Liaisons: Best Performance of an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Musical. Hey, think that’s anything like Best Featured Actress in a Musical?) Tom is leaving cute but embarrassing messages for Kyle, while Julia is glowering over their disintegrated partnership.
And then there’s Jimmy, who has an out-of-body experience while mournfully crooning “High and Dry” en route to Karen’s apartment. It reminds me of the video for Britney Spears’s “Lucky,” in that Real Jimmy is going about his business as Singing Invisible Jimmy puts his inner monologue to music. The whole thing is sort of inventive and sort of (very) cheesy and, all in all, indelibly Smash.
NEXT: The day the music died