09 June 2013

"What I learned from Smash (if I didn’t know anything about theater)"

by RonAnnArbor
[As most people know, Smash aired on NBC television from February 2012 to May 2013.  It purported to tell the saga of the development of a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe from casting through opening, with all the false starts, disasters, and successes along the way as the writers reworked the book and the songs and the directors came and went with new ideas and “improvements.”  And so on.  I watched the first several episodes, a few weeks’ worth of the plot, but the series quickly turned into a soap opera, dealing more and more with the hopped-up personalities and interpersonal squabbles of the cast and creative teams.  As RonAnnArbor details below, much of what Smash, created by Theresa Rebeck (Law & Order: Criminal Intent, NYPD Blue, L.A. Law), 2004 Pulitzer Prize nominee for the play Omnium Gatherum with Alexandra Gersten-Vassilaros, revealed about theater is false, misleading, or downright fantasy.  This article was originally posted on Facebook on 27 May 2013, the day after the show’s final episode.  I’m reposting it on ROT because it says so much about the way real theater is made.]

If I didn’t know anything about theater, Broadway, or musical theater, here is what I would have taken away from the now-cancelled series SMASH which ended its run last night on NBC:

The girl that doesn’t act, look, sing, or dance like Marilyn will get cast as Marilyn because she was on American Idol.

Everyone lives in the theater district in NYC: nobody drives a car, let alone goes home to New Jersey at the end of the night. All cast members walk to work, they don’t take the subway, busses, taxis, or bikes. Nobody has to take the train home to Flushing, Westchester, or anywhere else for that matter. A few of the cast might live as far away as Dumbo in Brooklyn. They walk there.

The director makes all hiring and firing decisions, and he can decide what you will do on the Tonys without notifying anyone; in fact, he can make any changes he wants even seconds before the performance on live TV.

You can fully cast a multi-million dollar musical before you even have a script and score ready to go (although I guess Motown the Musical might have proven this to be true).

The director sleeps with every woman he wants to cast. It’s just the way it goes. In fact – the director sleeps with women!

Out of town theaters can become available for a pre-Broadway tryout with one phone call. They can have a full house at the first preview just three days later, including newspaper coverage.

You can move a mediocre off-Broadway show to Broadway, because theaters are instantly available, and you can do so overnight.

When a new director takes over a show, mostly he is in charge of how to make scene changes happen during intermission, and the union crew is available at his beck and call.

The new girl gets the role, even when not right for it, because she has “that certain something”.

A big finish will help them forget what came before – especially when it’s set to practically the same tune as the finale for Catch Me If You Can.

A major Broadway director will drop everything and go to the aide of an unwritten mediocre-at-best Off-Broadway musical because he “believes” in his girlfriend’s judgment.

The Outer Critic awards take place in a small dining room with about 25 guests. Oh, and while we’re at it: you can pick up a dead person’s tickets and use them for your friends at the Tony’s.

Shows and major decisions made about them are influenced entirely by whom is sleeping with whom, because everyone cares about that.

You can add a new number to the show between matinee and evening, and have a complete new set and costumes ready to go for that performance.

Nobody uses body mics, there is no backstage crew, and there is no tech rehearsal necessary to make it just happen. Probably because the new director took care of all of that himself.

If you cast the right people in the leads, everything else will happen by itself. (That is only true in community theater).

If you need a really really really really really big movie star to play your lead on Broadway, bring in Sean Hayes.

You can just fire the best performer in your show (Will Chase) because the book-writer slept with him and the book-writer thinks it[’]s a bad idea for him to stick around. The book-writer can bypass union rules to do so, because the book-writer is the most important person on your artistic staff.

Speaking of book and score writing: apparently the shows write themselves because the writers are too busy sleeping around and drinking wine at the local bar. The latter is pre-requisite to taking over the role of director for a major multi-million dollar musical.

There are no musical directors on Broadway. Music rehearsals don’t take place, just performance quality scenes, and the Musical Director apparently only conducts the orchestra.

And the coolest thing I learned from Smash . . . . when you win the Tony for Best Musical, you can bring your just-out-of-jail boyfriend on stage with you to accept the award.

[Another blogger, Anne T. Donahue on Bite, declared in “10 Things I Learned From: Smash” last February, “Nothing about Smash is realistic at all.”  For instance, she pointed out, “Dancers and people in theatre wear theatre clothes all the time.  FYI. At practice, at home, on stage, off stage, on their way to practice, home, or a stage, we’ve got theatre clothes. Spandex, sweaters, and everything else you’ve seen in Footloose.  In another observation, Donahue caught on the . . . er, facts that I complained to a friend about just when I dumped the show: “Dancers and people in theatre dance and sing all the time.  ALL THE TIME.  Not just at practice because that would be amateur hour and they might as well smother themselves in nylon because they’re a disgrace—everywhere.  Bowling alley?  Sing there.  A restaurant? Oh my GOD, sing there, are you insane?  Times Square?  Well, if you don’t, don’t even think about coming back into the wide world of music and/or art.  Wasting one’s voice is NOT A BIG DEAL.  You just sing all the time, and magic and Smash will give your voice all the rest it needs.”  Along with this, Donahue noted that “it is also completely normal and accepted to break out into song in public.” 

[The singing question plagued me, too.  Back in April 2012, which is when I stopped watching the show, I remarked to a friend that one of the things that annoyed me about the show was that the songs were getting to be more and more covers of pop tunes and less and less the “show” tunes from the play-within-the-series (since they couldn’t present a whole show score all at once, I guess).  There were lots of karaoke scenes (a tie-in with Donahue’s comment about singers singing “all the time”) and other similar occasions where a cast member just upped and belted out a pop song.  One other thing that always gets me in shows about performers is that the writers seem to think that all singers, dancers, and musicians are dying to get up and do their things whenever and wherever someone asks them—parties, restaurants, on the street.  And they're always prepared and in voice/step/tune immediately.  In one episode with Nick Jonas as a prospective cast member, he even joined in at the end of a song he's not supposed to have ever heard before, and he knew the lyrics and the tune perfectly and was right on key.  Yeah, right!]

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