[Fair warning: This post discusses plot points from the most recent episode of Girls.]

In the most recent episode of Girls, Andrew Rannells’ Elijah auditions for a musical version of White Men Can’t Jump, during which he’s required to perform an elaborate dance wielding a basketball. It sounds outlandish, but it turns out that situation was drawn from Rannells’ own life. Before the actor won acclaim for The Book Of Mormon, he appeared in an out-of-town tryout for the basketball-themed musical that would eventually be called Lysistrata Jones. (It’s the Aristophanes comedy, but in college.) “I told [Jenni Konner and Lena Dunham] the story of when I went for my callback and they were like, ’Okay, you’re going to have to dance, but don’t worry it’s not going to be a big deal,’” he recalled. “And then they did that very thing that we showed in the episode where they wheeled in a rack of basketballs. They were like, ’Okay, now let’s do it with a basketball.’ And I was like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me?’ Somehow miraculously I still got that job.” Rannells said the writers toyed with just having Elijah go out for a production of Lysistrata Jones, but ultimately settled on an imaginary adaptation of Ron Shelton’s film. “With the rate that people are turning movies into musicals, I think that White Men Can’t Jump is probably not that far off, not so far-fetched,” Rannells said.

It looks like Elijah might end up in the same situation that Rannells did: He flails while everyone else flawlessly executes the routine, but remains in the running for the show. Still, doing the choreography was “nerve-wracking” for the Broadway veteran. “That particular sequence was a very special kind of hell, to have to re-enact a very dark moment from my audition past,” Rannells said. “But I was happy to exploit that for the story.”

(Photo: HBO)

The episode also featured a tribute of sorts to the beloved-by-some mess of an NBC drama Smash, as Elijah belts a couple of bars of “Let Me Be Your Star“ during his audition. “We kicked around a couple of ideas and if it should be something that is more a reflection of what Elijah is going through with Dill,” he explained. (Elijah’s ex, played by Corey Stoll, makes an appearance in the episode.) “However, our showrunner Jenni Konner and I both have a real obsession with Smash. Jenni, because I think she just loves the idea of the musical theater world, and I had so many friends on that show.” Then it dawned on him. “It just hit me, all of a sudden,” he said. ”I was like, Jenni, I should sing ‘Let Me Be Your Star.’”

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The Girls team was able to get the rights for the song without much hassle. They even got the “blessing” of co-writer Marc Shaiman, who showed up on set the day Rannells was filming the scene. “It was a very crazy day because I had done Hairspray very briefly with Marissa Jaret Winokur who was playing the casting director in last night’s episode, and then to have [Hairspray writer] Marc come to the set that morning and have this little Hairspray reunion—it was really special,” he said. “It was a very fun day and a strange mashup of different worlds. I’ve managed to keep my musical theater life very separate from my television career, and then to get to do it all together was very exciting.”