SMASH Fact or Fiction? Season Two (Episodes One and Two “On Broadway” and “The Fallout”)

SMASH is renewed for a second season, Fact or Fiction?  That’s a fact, Jack.  Actors all over New York are thankful for another season of potential TV work and I’m delighted to host our favorite blogosphere TV gameshow.  Everyone, get your buzzers out.  This season we have big prizes behind door number one so I hope you spent your hiatus studying up on theater facts and fictions.

Please take a moment to read the game rules before activating your buzzers.

I am here to remind you that I am in total support of the fact that the show is, in fact, a TV show–a fictional drama–not a documentary. Right? Right. Good. Please initialize your understanding of this fact here: ______. We are not out to do anything except use the show as a launching point for fun conversation about the theater world. Based on the success of A Chorus Line and other backstage shows, we here at My Own Space assume there is a basic appreciation and curiosity of what happens behind the scenes on Broadway. Or else, one might rightly ask, what in the world are you doing reading this blog. Right? Right. If you can’t sing at least part of the song “Tomorrow”, you’re in the wrong place, tough guy, and maybe you should go here instead.

Truth be told, you don’t really even need to watch the show to play along, but you might be confused at points and you will not win the grand prize which is hidden behind door number one and is probably a signed copy of J-Huds Weight Watchers book.

My name is Sharon Wheatley, I’ve done some Broadway shows, and I will be your host. Be sure to read the comments after the blog because that’s where I will be debated and corrected by all my insider-y Broadway friends and it is half the fun.  Reminder that we keep things clean and informative here on My Own Space.  If you want to trash talk there are exactly 5,872,017 Broadway message boards where you can do that.

We start the season with a double header and will cover the episodes “On Broadway” and “The Fallout” so grab a snack, but please open all cough drops and candy wrappers quietly in this live theater environment.  Cell phones off.  Game buzzers on.

Here we go. Lights up…cue theme music….

I will make a series of statements based on events in this weeks episode, and then give my opinion on whether the statements are “fact” or “fiction”. You play along. Get your buzzers ready.

1) Before the opening credits are done rolling we see three people get out of black town cars so we know important people on Broadway get the perk of a car service.  Fact or Fiction?

Fact.  Not always, not everyone, but yes, one of the big perks of Broadway is a car service, and yes, the cars always seem to be black although more frequent is a black Suburban.  So who got in a town car?

1)  Karen: who would have one because she plays the lead role.  But this is not always a done deal, so push your agent if you book a lead on Broadway.  And as a side bonus occasionally, very occasionally the understudy of the lead role gets to use the star’s car when the understudy goes on.

2)  Eileen: who would have one because she’s Anjelica Huston.  Oh, I mean the producer.

3)  Derek: who would have one because he’s a famous director (not all directors are going to get a car service).

Who’s seen hailing a low-brow yellow cab?  Ivy the Understudy.  Who, in truth, should be shlepping her bag down the steps to the subway because cabs are pricey for the unemployed.

Let’s talk a bit about a producer getting a show booked in a Broadway theater quickly.  To get this just right I had to make a call on the sly to a producer who shall remain nameless but had big opinions about the character of Eileen.

2)  It is possible to get a big theater like the St. James in a week.  Fact or fiction?

Fact.

Wait.  What?  I was totally yelling at the TV saying no way NO WAY could you book the St. James in a week.  Totally fiction.  But then, just because I would never want to mislead you fine readers, I used my phone a friend option and dialed directly to a big Broadway producer who agreed to talk as long as he’s Deep Throat.

DEEP THROAT:  Look, New York City is a real estate game, we all know that, and the theater owners make all the money.  They survive by playing a constant game of Who Can Make Me The Most Money?  If a show seems to have **legs (**fancy producer show speak for “it will run for a long time”) and ** capitalize (**earn back its initial investment) and will then run and make a lot of money, a show can absolutely find a theater in a week.  Okay, that said, it isn’t going to happen for a new producer.  You have to have earned your stripes and they have to trust you.  Truth:  Eileen is based on the real life Broadway producer Fran Weissler, and while she and Barry (Weissler) aren’t divorced, that is absolutely who Eileen is modeled after.  Frannie Weissler is part of a power couple.  If she wanted the St. James in a week, she’s get the St. James in a week.  And everyone wants the St. James because it’s big.

3)  When a show is coming to Broadway they have a big party to announce it with all the press there and they perform songs from the show and maybe Jennifer Hudson who is appearing in another show that is unrelated to the show would perform too, (and, and, and…I could go on but I won’t.) Fact or Fiction?

Fiction.  Every morsel of it.  They save that kind of event for late in the rehearsal process and then they do a press “Meet and Greet” where everyone is interviewed and they perform from the show and Jennifer Hudson is not there (even though this blog writer is thrilled to hear her singing on SMASH).  As Deep Throat said, “No producer would risk a press event like that because if the songs are bad you are dead in the water.”

The following text came in later from Deep Throat:  “The producer could set a ‘press performance.’ Dangerous, but could do it.

4)  Michael Riedel.  Fact or Fiction?

Fact.  And, by the way, making him a character on the show–where he plays himself–is a really great way to get some good press from a snarky New York Post reporter known for taking shows down.

5)  All Broadway capitalizations come from reputable and reliable investors.  Fact or Fiction?  

In a move commonly referred to as being “Sprecherized”, not all investments are sound.  (I am providing some info from Wikipedia if you do not know about the Rebecca Scandal I capitalize both because the scandal was as big as the show.  Actually bigger.  If you know about it, scroll on down to the ***.)

From the “you can’t make this shit up” category:

In 2012, Sprecher was involved in a scandal surrounding an attempt at mounting the musical Rebecca on Broadway. As the project’s lead producer, Sprecher was forced to delay the musical on September 8, 2012, two days before rehearsals were slated to begin, when he announced that a major investor had died. According to Sprecher, this investor had committed $4.5 million, more than a third of the show’s $12 million capitalization.[2]

The “deceased investor” was later identified as Paul Abrams, a South African businessman who had allegedly fallen ill after contracting malaria. Sprecher asserted that he had never met Abrams nor had a single conversation with him, despite Abram’s investment in the musical.[3] Some members of the Broadway community raised suspicion, including Robert E. Wankel, president of The Shubert Organization and a six-figure investor in Rebecca as well as the owner of its intended theater, the Broadhurst.[4]

On September 26, Sprecher announced to the cast that due to new financial commitments, rehearsals for the musical would now commence on October 1.[5]The day before these rehearsals were about to start, Sprecher announced that he had failed to raise enough funds for the musical. He claimed that a new investor had been lined up and ready to commit, but backed out following an anonymous email advising the individual to distance themselves from the project.[6]

Mark Hotton of West Islip, New York, was revealed as the middleman between Ben Sprecher and Paul Abrams on October 3. A 2011 civil fraud lawsuit against Hotton claimed he had a “long history of criminal misconduct and fraud”.[7] Sprecher’s lawyer Ronald Russo later announced that Paul Abrams did not exist, and asserted that Sprecher had been tricked by Hotton into believing the validity of Abrams.[8] The case is currently the subject of a criminal investigation by the FBI, though no charges have yet been made.

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Now let’s play a fun game of Who’s Who, which has been happening in my Facebook Newsfeed all night and at one point I was so wrong that I almost had to give my Equity card back.  Let me try to redeem myself here.

6) Famous people playing themselves:  

1)  Jordan Roth:  President and partial owner of Jujamcyn Theaters.  They own and operate five Broadway theaters, including the much mentioned St. James.

2)  Harvey Fierstein:  Actor, writer and all around theater royalty.  Best known for penning La Cage, Newsies, and Torch Song Trilogy and originating Edna Turnblad in Hairspray.  

3)  Michael Riedel:  Snarky and scoopy New York Post reporter.

6) Famous people playing other people: 

1)  Jennifer Hudson playing Veronica Moore who is really Audra McDonald. Right?  Broadway sweetheart with numerous TONY awards?  Could also be Sutton Foster or Angela Lansbury, but my money is on it being modeled after McDonald and her four TONYS.  Or is it five now?  I’ve lost count.  But hey, J Hud, welcome to SMASH and you sound great.

2)  Jeremy Jordan playing Jimmy the angry hipster composer from Greenpoint.  Jeremy is best known for originating the lead role in Newsies (cross reference with Harvey Fierstein) and being the object of  all 14-year-old girl’s affections, including my daughter who only left her Skype chats long enough to come in the room when he was on the screen.

3) Brynn O’Malley as Derek’s agent and table dancer.  Brynn O’Malley is a Broadway actress from numerous shows and is currently in Annie as Grace Farrell.  She happens to be one of my besties so she gets a special shout out.  She is also a regular contributor to this blog and if I can talk her into it, maybe we will do a little vlog interview later this week about her experience filming SMASH.  She tells a good story, so check back for that.

4)  Krysta Rodriguez as Ana, Karen’s floozy new roommate.  Broadway fans will best remember her as Wednesday in The Addams Family.

5) Margo Martindale as mystery woman named Miriam that had something to do with the American Theater Wing.  Maybe she was the President?  Margo Martindale has a long and varied resume, and I am ashamed to say that she was the actress I didn’t recognize (but I now idolize).

6) Shout outs:  Mary Testa, Jackie Hoffman and Cheyenne Jackson, all of who were in Xanadu on Broadway (and many other things, but I love that they were all in the same sentence and the same show).

7)  Hipster parties in Greenpoint, Brooklyn are regularly interrupted by a musical theater serenade.  Fact or fiction?

Fiction.  We all just wish musical theater was that cool.

8)  Everyone puts their address on their headshot and resume.  Fact or fiction?

Well that’s a fact if you want to get stalked, but let’s call it fiction if you want to have any chance of survival.  In reality, you only list your agency information and if you do not have an agent you put your cell phone and/or an email address.  This was much debated on my Facebook page because some people felt it was Krysta who hand wrote the address on Karen’s resume, but they never say that or show it, so I feel it is my duty to make sure you all heed the warning.  No addresses on resumes.  Okay?  Okay.

Starting next week I will answer one question from a reader, so please write in.  I will not do it this week because we are already running long.

If you want to play SMASH Fact or Fiction every week, be sure to “like” my Facebook page or follow me on twitter @sswheatley.

Recent Press:

February 6, 2013.  Thanks to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for writing about SMASH Fact or Fiction.

April 2012:  Thanks to New York Magazine for naming SMASH Fact or fiction to its Approval Matrix.

May 2012:  Thanks to  vulture.com for citing SMASH Fact or fiction in an interview with Megan Hilty.

Thanks for playing!

Interested in a follow up to this post?  Go to our first-ever Smash Fact or fiction spin off, Ask and Answer where I address reader questions.  Go here.

 

About Sharon Wheatley

I am a four-time Broadway actress, a mother, a wife, a writer, a director, a dog lover and wondering how not to sound like a big braggart as I type in this box. I moved to the west coast to pursue TV and film writing. I usually assume people will say yes, because why live your life anticipating a no? I'm glad you are here. Hi.
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29 Responses to SMASH Fact or Fiction? Season Two (Episodes One and Two “On Broadway” and “The Fallout”)

  1. Babs says:

    loved it! the show *and* the blog! favorite song/performance…They Just Keep Moving The Line. wow! least favorite number….Would I Lie To You. is this where we post our questions? perhaps this is one that really can't be answered, but would the star of a show…particularly one who is still "up and coming"…have that much say in the firing of a fellow cast member?

  2. TLT says:

    And Brenda Braxton playing J Huds mom in her show! Love that Braxton : )

  3. Trudi says:

    Love the column! But I have a question you didn't answer: Would Karen actually have the power to have Ivy fired as ensemble member/understudy simply because Ivy slept with Karen's boyfriend? Is that contractually allowed?

  4. Anissa says:

    So excited to see this is back!! I love it so!

  5. Creason says:

    Shar, I'm so proud to say that the actor who played Ana's hook-up ("Yo") is Jake Robinson, a Theatre Xavier alum! And Ms. McDonald does indeed has five Tonys, along with Angela Lansbury and Julie Harris. So glad SMASH is back because that means YOU are back. Loved the article in the Pittsburgh paper. Love you. P.S. Brynn O'Malley!

  6. dave.mc says:

    Thanks for the commentary. A midwesterner here with no NY stage history, savvy, or understanding. Now, my gripe. Brian Darcy James –WTH? Probably one of the best of the actors singers out there and he is schlepping around and the belligerent husband of scarf lady? And now he is out. I get losing Dev and Ellis and agree that they need to revamp his character. But to off him in such a pissy way made me want to stop watching.

  7. TLT says:

    Don't forget about Brenda Braxton as J Huds show mom in her first number!! Lookin' like a million bucks Braxton!

  8. sswheatley says:

    Hi everyone!
    I have some follow ups after getting messages from friends. From another producer friend: "VERY FEW producers take black town cars. And most take the subway.
    Also if a show has "legs" and is capitalized (this is when the producers have raised all their money) AND it has the potential to "recoup," which means it will run a long time and earn all the capitalization back, then a producer can get the St. James in a week.
    And contrary to popular belief, not everyone wants the St. James because its minimums are very high for both IATSE Local 1, and for AFM Local 802. It is an extremely expensive theater to run your show in, so your show really better have great 'legs!'"
    From a company manager friend: "A show usually pays for the cabs for everyone to get them home from an out of town gig – so Ivy was ok taking the cab."

    • Claudia says:

      The producers I worked for until very recently usually took the subway or taxis, but when they came home from the airport, they would always have a town car.

  9. Sarah says:

    Is it all reasonable that Karen would be considered "a big deal" after just two weeks in a preview performance? It seemed really odd that Kyle was considering her a mover and a shaker and that she would have creative control and be able to get Ivy fired.

  10. prince says:

    FACT Michael Riedel is not a New York Post reporter. He is a gossip columnist, not a journalist or critic. Snark away at his supposed power to bring down shows, but if you do remember to praise him for his power to hold them up…I'd argue he does more for musical theatre than any other writer in nyc.

  11. mo pie says:

    Was the girl who played Ivy and Sam's friend one of the Delta Nus from Legally Blonde: The Musical? If so I love her! Even though her name is embarrassingly slipping my mind at the moment.

  12. Stephanie Layton says:

    Oh my god, your comment about Greenpoint cracked me up! I finally watched the show, and that scene definitely had me raising three eyebrows. That said, as a resident of Williamsburg I have actually witnessed both Lion King sing-a-longs and Colm Wilkinson impersonations at parties. Good Colm Wilkinson impersonations.

    Love this blog, Sharon!

  13. Iris says:

    I also have a few questions about the last episodes.
    1) It's the director's job to keep the lead happy between an out-of-town tryout and a possible move to Broadway, including taking her to see a show and all that stuff?
    2) (I feel like you touched on that some last season and I just forgot, in which case you can just ignore me) Does anyone bsides tourist ever really sit at these chairs in the middle of time square? Except maybe if you're doing a show at the Marquis?
    3) Can you just interupt an American Theater Wing Gala with an inpromtu performance if you're not even invited to be there in the first place?

  14. Donna says:

    Is is true that the cast are like family and know everyone else’s business? That was surprising to me.. And wouldn’t a more professional leading lady have set aside her personal feeling towards Ivy for the good of the show?

  15. Myra says:

    @mo pie: That was Annaleigh Ashford, who originated the role of Margot in "Legally Blonde" on Broadway. She also appears in the "Smash" pilot in the audition montage, as the girl who showed up in full Marilyn getup.

  16. Iris says:

    @Donna I've heard people (and by people I actually mostly mean Kristin Chenoweth) say that the cast of a show does indeed become like a family because they work so close together for such a long period of time (including workshops, rehearsal ect before the actual run) and at least some of the people involved would likely have worked together before. So I'd say that part is probably quite accurate except maybe that Frank shouldn't be surprised by this, considering how long he has been married to Julia and that she has been in the buiss the entire time. He and Leo would (according to Kristin) be part of that family.

  17. Thomas says:

    To answer Sarah, yes, Karen could be considered a big deal. Jeremy Jordan is the perfect example. Right after Newsies' regional premier at Papermill Playhouse he became a hot commodity. Since Newsies wasn't intented to go to Broadway, I have no doubt he could've had another actor fired if he didn't want to work with him on Broadway, since there was no contract to buy out.

  18. snoopmk says:

    "The company is a family" is absolutely true and happens to varying degrees (mostly having to do with how long they are working together) at all levels of theatre, from community theatre to regional to Broadway. I agree, though, that Frank shouldn't have been surprised by that fact if he and Julia had been together so long.

  19. Lauren E. says:

    I have to say I have witnessed many a musical theater singalong at parties in Brooklyn, and my friends are definitely hipsters. Just remember how many struggling-actor-former-Tisch/NYU kids migrate to Brooklyn post-college.

  20. Amanda says:

    I just want to say….HOORAY!

  21. JPR says:

    Margot Martindale played the fictitious head of the American Theatre Wing, Miriam Abramson, which was modeled after the late President of the Wing, Isabel Stevenson.

  22. Rick Starr says:

    Questions for Smashless Tuesday (or beyond): (1) Eileen has the St. James (because it's BIG!) or does she? Don't some producers want smaller theaters because the rent will be less and the demand unknown? Or are all the "on" Broadway houses roughly the same size? (I know "off-Broadway" doesn't really mean "off", it means "smaller" and "off-off" means "a lot smaller", right?) (2) And how long would a cast wait around between a Boston tryout and the Broadway opening before finding other work? They can't all be on the payroll while they sit around, can they? So how long is the prep, rewrite, tech, etc. supposed to take upon entering a new theater?

    And on another note (3) We come to NY once a year and see a half dozen shows in a week (exhausting, but fun.) But we also see lots of traveling shows, which usually open Thursday and run through Sunday. Can they really pack everything up, load it into I don't know how many semis and buses, and get to the next town and set up to be ready to go again by the next Thursday? Does the cast even get to see the new setup before they go on?

    • Jenny says:

      To question #3: Absolutely. In fact, shows often run starting Tuesday with load out happening Sunday night, travel overnight to the next venue, load in Tuesday and open that night. I've done tours that had 3 venues in one week even. The cast gets a sound check before opening in the new town. The set won't be a "new setup" – it will be the same as the one the night before just in a different theatre. Stage Managers post signs all over the backstage and dressing room area so the cast can find their way when they get there. Offices travel in road boxes and you'd be amazed by how moved in the backstage feels very quickly also.

      Think about the super bowl. They have a COMMERCIAL BREAK to set up the stage and sets for the superstar performer! Crews are unsung rock stars.

    • Claudia says:

      The cast does not stay on the payroll when they are not working. They get paid when rehearsals start. The downtime can vary widely depending on how much work the show needs (which, in Bombshell's case, seems to be a lot). As a recent example from last season, LEAP OF FAITH held its out-of-town tryout in Los Angeles in September 2010, then finally opened on Broadway in April 2012 with a brand new book writer, director, and choreographer. Other shows transfer almost immediately.

      Usually, a pre-Broadway out-of-town production contract includes the option for Broadway, but not always. In that case, actors are free to pursue other work. If they end up booking something else and producers really want them, they will offer more money to get them back. Sometimes the actor will believe in the project and willingly turn down other work so they can stay. However, due to the nature of the theater industry, nearly EVERY actor contract, Broadway or not, allows the actor to leave for "more remunerative employment" – meaning they can exit their contract for another job.

      To answer your other question, the St. James is a very popular house because of the size and location, but it's true some shows work better in a smaller house. You wouldn't want to book the Gerswhin for a one-man show or an intimate three-character drama. Hopefully, the producer is smart enough to book a theater that is the right size for the show. Generally, though, the more seats in the theater, the more tickets you can sell, and the quicker you can make your money back. So, yes, it's true that larger theaters are often desired just because of their size.

      The definition of "Broadway" vs. "off-Broadway" is a little more complicated than that, but basically, yes, it comes down to size (Broadway theaters have at least 500 seats) and location (Broadway theaters are located in what is called the "Broadway Box" – roughly a rectangle drawn around West Midtown).

  23. Jan Hart says:

    Rick Starr: I really like your question #3 and hope Sharon or someone can answer it. My daughter recently went to a Lady Gaga concert in L.A. which had a huge set and elaborate props and costumes. And that was just for 2 shows. I'd think the set up would take days. My daughter heard that Gaga has 2 complete stagings and they leap frog each other from town to town. (My Gaga reference isn't exactly Broadway related, but it's certainly theater.)

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  25. schmate says:

    The least believable thing in the premiere, IMHO, was that random meeting about nothing, in a big, pretty studio, with the whole cast in attendance. I understand why they needed it for TV, but in reality, that meeting would have happened in Boston or not at all. Once the show's over (and Boston was likely a separate LORT contract), the job is done unless or until another production happens.

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