SMASH Fact or Fiction Season 2, Episode 4 “The Song”

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.  Based on the shaky ratings this season, we’d better play while we can because as we all know, SMASH is much more fun when you play Fact or Fiction.  Did you miss last week?  Go here to do your catch up reading.  I’ve added a new mid-week spin off blog called SMASH Ask and Answer where I answer reader questions, so go read that and then write in.  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 five and is probably the flying script of The Singing Bird .

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.

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.

Omg. I’m so excited.  Did anyone else hear it?  They actually mentioned agents this episode.  I think they are reading this blog (okay, so we all know this episode was already in the can** but a girl can dream about the ginormous impact of this blog).

**”In the can” in this reference is not referring to heading to the bathroom, but instead means the episode was already shot and ready for air by the time last week’s blog was posted.

1)  The episode was titled “The Song” because of that glorious song the show started with, “I Got Love”.  Fact or Fiction?

Fiction and this was a stupid question on my part, but I really just wanted an excuse to talk about this song.  I started to write about it and then decided to send you all to the master of song and singing, my friend Seth Rudetsky.  Do you know Seth?  You should.  Homework.  If you have Sirus/XM Satellite Radio, he is on the host of Seth’s Big Fat Broadway on the On Broadway channel.  Check it out.  For now, go here to learn more details about Melba Moore and her Tony award winning performance of “I’ve Got Love” in Seth’s famous and hilarious deconstruction video.  Worth it.  But then come right back here because we’ve got a lot more Fact and Fiction coming your way.

2)  A “Momager” really exists.  Fact or Fiction?

Fact, and I’ll tell you who had one, none other than MISS SAIGON’S Lea Salonga.  What’s a Momager?  It’s a manager who is a Mom and while I’ve never heard the phrase before I like it and I’m using it like it is a real thing.  It’s like the time I heard “hungerstudy” used to describe an ambitious understudy.  Genius.  I immediately made it part of my vernacular.

In this episode of SMASH we meet JHud’s onscreen mother/manager, and may I just point out that it is the legendary Sheryl Lee Ralph who created the role of Deena in DREAMGIRLS.  For those of you who need the dots connected, in the film, Deena is played by Beyonce and JHud plays Effie.  So nice to have to dream girls onstage together.  Fun, SMASH!

Back to the Momager idea, I can report that there was a lot of accuracy in this depiction and seemed to be ripped right from the Salonga play books.  I knew Lea’s mom was her manager (she was famous for sheltering Lea) and I had some judgements about that, but I’m happy to report that when I did LES MISERABLES with Lea (and her Mom by proxy) they were both wonderfully nice.  Don’t get me wrong, Lea’s Mom had her on close to lock down because she wanted to protect her pristine image, but they were both very friendly.  Lea is now married and has a baby so I’m guessing things have loosened up between her and her Mom.

3) Bravo films musical theater star’s concerts.  Fact or Fiction?

Totally fiction, but NBC owns BRAVO so it is a chance to toss in a plug for their sister station.  The closest they’d ever get is The Real Housewives Of Broadway.

While we’re talking about this, who WOULD air a concert like this?  PBS, baby.  After you finish DOWNTON ABBEY, check out the LIVE FROM LINCOLN CENTER series.  Last week they had a Kander and Ebb review with Chita and Joel Grey and next up is an evening with Kristin Chenoweth.

4) A couple of guys can write a song, it gets put into a concert and the result is the beginning of a career writing for the musical theater.  Fact or fiction?

To answer this question I turn to the other side of the couch and hand the computer to the quietly handsome music director and college professor, my husband, Rob Meffe.  Tell us Rob, is it fact or fiction?  Take it away.

 FACT
Just because something is unlikely, doesn’t mean that it can’t happen.  Or have even happened before.  There are many roads to success as a composer/lyricist team and one of them is by writing a hit song that is performed by a nationally known artist.  George Gershwin was not known as a composer until Al Jolson and his horrible blackface made “Swanee” a hit.  Perhaps Kander & Ebb would not have been green-lighted for Cabaret if it weren’t for the success of a young Barbra Streisand’s recording of “My Coloring Book.”  Things have changed a lot since then, and the biggest change is that songs written for the theater are no longer what you hear when you turn on the radio.  Consequently, the path for musical theater writers has changed as well.  Fortunately in the past few decades there has been a resurgence in support of the creation of new musicals.  Non-profit theater companies like Playwrights Horizons and Lincoln Center have fostered the careers of many new composers of this generation including Stephen Flaherty & Lynn Ahrens (Once on this Island), William Finn (Falsettos, A New Brain, Elegies), Adam Guettel (Floyd Collins, A Light In The Piazza), Jeanine Tesori (Violet), and even helped the well-established composer Stephen Sondheim develop two of his masterpieces, Into The Woods and Sunday in the Park With George.  Musical theater writing programs came into existence, such as the Lehman Engel BMI Workshop and the Graduate Musical Theater Writing program at NYU.  But there is no substitute for getting your songs out there to the public.  And places like Joe’s Pub in New York City (mentioned in this episode) is a way to get your music noticed.
At Pace University we are fortunate enough to have several musical theater composers as a part of our faculty, and they represent some of the ways that young writers are getting themselves noticed.  Our Music Theory professor, Ryan Scott Oliver developed an entire showcase of his material entitled RATED RSO, and produced several performances at Joe’s Pub using our freshmen students as the performers.  One of our vocal coaches, Shaina Taub won a residency to the Yaddo Colony which provides twenty artists a year a haven to create new material.  And even our esteemed artist-in-residence, Adam Guettel, just completed a series of performances at 54 Below that showcased many of his previously written material, but also a good chunk of new material to try out on audiences.
Sidebar: A couple of guys can write a song, it gets put into a nationally broadcast telecast of a concert and they were not aware of it until they saw it.
FICTION
I’m afraid in the interest of not slowing down the storyline and for the purpose to give Jeremy Jordan a chance to actually smile, the writers did some condensing.  The leap from a casually written bunch of pencilled notes on a slip of paper (like Derek was holding in the cafe) to a fully arranged (with backup vocals), orchestrated, rehearsed, staged, lit, and costumed closing number leaves out some of the most important people in our business that make everything happen behind the scenes.   I really don’t mind that SMASH does some fudging on this bit, except that it gives the impression that a performance like that could happen without this huge team of amazingly creative people.  Well, it can’t.
The other bit of fiction here is that intellectual property rights are the bread and butter of creative artists.  There are many laws that protect the performance of compositions, and Kyle and Jimmy would have at least had to agree to the terms of which that music was telecast.
Thank you, Professor (and Maestro) Meffe for the input and that brings a close to our latest installment of Fact or Fiction.  Thank you for reading!
I’ll do a ASK and ANSWER or a DEAR SHARON (and Rob) post as soon as I get a couple more questions, so ask away. I had a lot of repeat questions this week and want to wait for a few new ones.  Any questions about SMASH or theater?  post them in the comments or send an email to sharonswheatley@gmail.com.
To read the next post in this series, go here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Sharon Wheatley

Mother of Charlotte and Beatrix. Sometimes an actress. Sometimes a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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7 Responses to SMASH Fact or Fiction Season 2, Episode 4 “The Song”

  1. Karen says:

    I thought Brenda Braxton was Jennifer Hudson's mother on SMASH. What happened?

  2. Iris says:

    I'm a little (or a lot, actually) confused about Jennifer Hudson's character on the show. So we know that she is this HUGE broadway star who has won 2 Tonys in the past. But she's Broadways Baby and people only have ever seen her play cute, nice parts like Dorothy? So she wants to get rid of that image and show the people another side of her. So she gets Derek to direct a concert to showcase that other side. But when they go into rehearsal she suddenly wants to do all the songs she usually does? Even more, she's scared and feels uncomfortabel to put on a more senusal song? Excuse me? I thought she won 2 Tonys? And even if she's been playing "nice, innocent" parts recently, surely she would have started out by taking every job she could get… and playing characters very unlike to herself?
    Very confused by her "arc" here… (and let's not get started on the whole rehearsal process ;) )
    Rant done. I do usually love Smash but that epsiode flopped for me, sadly.

  3. Cathy Stevens says:

    I'm not sure she coined the phrase, but I have heard Kris Jenner (mother of the Khardasians and evil mastermind) referred to as a "Momager."

  4. Donna says:

    May be a stupid question, but is the financing of a production actually investigated?

  5. Frieda Ann says:

    Lea Salonga was a teenager when her career ("Miss Saigon") got under way. I'm guessing she shed her momager well before she was 30 – the age of the Jennifer Hudson character. This episode was so ridiculous. Bravo agrees to broadcast a concert the day before it happens? They still haven't chosen the songs the day before? Besides all the legal and arranging issues that your guest professor detailed, there's just the ludicrous idea that a major concert is thrown together like that! And that song she sang at the end? Was it really so impressive? It sounded like a million other songs to me! Also, what were Kyle and Jimmy doing backstage (excuse me, right off stage) when they weren't expecting to be part of the concert? They could just wander back there? This show is a complete fantasy. I enjoy your column, Sharon, but you're too generous. This show is fiction through and through.

  6. Myra says:

    How often are one-night-only concerts put together within the last 24 hours before the concert?

Comments are closed.