Forget Glee’s covers. In 2012, it was all about the original musical numbers on Smash. Whether the performances were fully-staged show-within-a-show hits for the fake Marilyn Monroe musical, or fantasy numbers that brought out the emotions of the characters, we couldn’t stop humming along — or hitting replay. Here, Joshua Bergasse, who won an Emmy this year for his choreography on the show, takes us inside one of the most talked-about musical moments of the drama’s freshman season: A Bollywood-style fantasy sequence that featured the whole cast. “One funny story about the Bollywood number was with the marigolds, right before they fall down before the final chorus,” he begins. “When we did it the first time, nobody took the cue to throw the marigolds. So like two came down. They just floated down, then a couple more, then a couple more, it was really very sad,” he says, laughing. “The whole crew cracked up. It was funny because we had thousands of marigolds. People had handfuls, and there was, like, 10 on the ground.”
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As told by: Joshua Bergasse
Sometimes I find out about the plans for a certain musical number before I get the script. For Bollywood, for instance, what happened was [songwriter] Scott Wittman and I were in [Smash creator Theresa Rebeck's] office going through the remainder of the season. And she just said ‘Bollywood…. You’re going to write a song, and you’re going to do a great dance, and it’s going to be awesome.” I was terrified because I didn’t know how to do a Bollywood number! It was daunting. But luckily, we knew about it well in advance. I think we had that convo in mid-December, and we shot the Bollywood number in the very beginning of February. In Smash world, that’s a long time.
So I was able to really prepare for it and take [Bollywood dance] lessons. And I watched dozens of hours of footage. Tons. Because what you try to figure out is: ‘What is Bollywood?’ Well, it’s actually a film style. And they like to do musical numbers. But there’s really no rule to what kind of musical numbers they do. Most of the time they do something that’s Indian, folk, something like that. But sometimes it’s hip hop, or sometimes it feels like it’s Broadway-type dancing. So, I think that was one of the biggest things about the Bollywood number: learning that there are no rules to it. When I heard we were doing Bollywood, I went to Raza [who plays Dev] and whispered, ‘Tell me what to watch! Tell me your favorite Bollywood movies because I have to watch them!’ And he sent me a bunch of movies.
Then I’ll work with my assistant and a few other dancers, and we’ll get into a room. One of my bosses says, ‘Oh, is that when you get into a room and jump around with your friends?’ Which it kind of is. We come up with steps and experiment and fail a lot. But after a while, you lock into a groove. And then once you have the steps and start to organize them, then you can start to bring in the large groups. It was a large group for the [final cut] of the Bollywood number. We had about 40 dancers plus the 10 principles. Plus we had 50 background.
We knew that we were never going to shoot the whole thing at once. We shot all the parts separately. It was really out-of-order. So I think that would be one difference about [A Thousand and One Nights], as oppose to some of the Marilyn numbers, where we like to run it all the way through if we can. Because the way I build [the Marilyn numbers] is that they would be able to play on a proscenium stage. But with the Bollywood number [because it was all fantasy], we knew we would never be able to shoot it straight through.
The thing about Smash is you’re constantly forced to be creative, minute-to-minute. You can’t look back, you’re always looking into the future. The second you finish a number, you have to go to the next number. If I’m shooting something, I’m already rehearsing the next number, and listening to the song after that. So the best thing is the excitement of always being creative. You have to make a choice, and then you have to learn to believe in your choices and move forward. If you doubt yourself, you’ll crash.
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