SMASH Fact or Fiction? Episode 6 "Chemistry"

Happy Thursday and welcome to the sixth episode of SMASH Fact or fiction?  Welcome to all you new readers, please take a moment to read the game rules before activating your buzzers.

Welcome back to America’s favorite TV trivia game show. If you’ve missed the previous posts, check out Why Smash Matters and our first four game shows, for the pilot episode  episode two episode three episode four and episode five. If you are new to My Own Space the blog, my name is Sharon and I’ve been in pretty many Broadway shows.  I am also friends with Theresa Rebeck, the creator, writer, and all around guru of the show–so 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 and should maybe try this 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 three and might be a year’s supply of steroids.

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)  It is normal and expected to arrive at rehearsal and get new “pages” for your script.  Fact or fiction?

Fact.  The process of developing a new show is sort of like playing a game of Whack-a-Mole.  One minute a scene is there, the next minute it’s gone.  Re-writes, changes, additions, subtractions are all par for the course.  They are absolutely expected, especially if you are doing a new show, and changes can happen every day  up until the point when the show is “frozen”, which is usually in time for the critics to come.  Fun fact, you probably think the critics come on opening night, right?  Actually critics come during the final performances of the “preview” period right before the show opens.  (P.S. Spiderman is the exception to almost everything I just wrote, but that is for another blog.)

One of my very favorite stories about last minute changes comes from Tony Award Winning actress, Joanna Gleason, who told a story about doing the short-lived show Nick and Nora on Broadway.  There were a slew of changes, which often happens when a show is in trouble, and one night Joanna (who was playing Nora) came in and found out she had an entirely new SONG (not just new lyrics) and they wanted to put it into the show that night.  Joanna agreed to it, but said they had to create a way that she could have the lyrics onstage with her as she was singing it, so they created a bunch of hat boxes that were stacked around her.  As she sang the song she would open the boxes and viola!  The lyrics were inside.  So for all the naysayers who think a director might not say, “Hey, let’s try this song without holding the pages” even though the actors had just received the music like Ivy and Michael had–I’m here to tell you–it happens.  The phrase “Make it work” applies not only to Project Runway, but also to theater.

One more quick side bar about this, another fun fact is that once a show is “frozen” it doesn’t always stay frozen.  For example, when I was doing Avenue Q, the writers would periodically come in and change things–once just the name of a kindergarten kid–and leave again.  Often (as was the case with Avenue Q) the creative team goes off to rehearse another company (like the National tour cast) and discover something they like better, so they end up putting it in every score.  Les Miserables actually had about 17 minutes chopped off of it about 12 or 13 years into the run.  Why? Money.  They needed to get it under 3 hours to save on overtime costs.  Crazy, right?  Most audience members never even noticed.

But let’s get back to SMASH.

2)  The music is always written before the lyrics.  Fact or fiction?

Fiction.  There is no hard and fast rule about what is written first, although the song writing team of Julia and Tom appear to write the music first.  In reality it varies from team to team (and remember that many times the lyrics and music are written by the same person).  My husband is also a musical theater history professor, and he had some fun facts.  Richard Rodgers wrote with two lyricists in his life.  Right? Right.  Okay, so what is weird about it is that when he wrote with Lorenz Hart he wrote the music first and then Hart plugged in lyrics, and when he wrote with Oscar Hammerstein II, he wrote the music after Oscar wrote the lyrics.  Kander and Ebb, who were great friends, wrote the music and lyrics together in the same room (more like what we see with Julia and Tom).  The highly touted Stephen Sondheim writes with God, so the music and the lyrics just appear on the page together like a stigmata.

3)  Singers use steriods.

Fact.  Way fact.  If there was steroid testing on Broadway during flu season, well…let’s just say a large number of people would be disqualified if this were a professional sporting team instead of a Broadway stage.  By some bizarre twist of fate I’ve never used them, but the stories about the side effects are legendary.  With the exception of the Karen/Marilyn in the mirror, I think SMASH got everything right about steroids.  Oh wait, except one thing, she would have had a shot at the doctor’s office.  Generally speaking, if you need your voice back quickly, you make an appointment with Dr. Woo (or your ENT of choice) and they will shoot you up with some steroids and you are good to go that night.  Miracle?  Yes.  Side effects?  Tons.

And while we are on the subject, I’d like to clarify that “vocal rest” is just that.  No talking.  At all.  No whispering.  It is totally normal to see someone with a note pad and paper because they are on total vocal rest.  I’ve known singers who were on vocal rest for weeks at a time.  Crazy, but it absolutely works.  Now in TV land, can you really have a singer on complete vocal rest?   (we saw Ivy talking while she was on vocal rest)  No.  A show with a star on vocal rest would be a complete bore, but it would have been fun to see her at least try to write things down instead of talking.  It gets old and annoying really fast.

Our final question of the show (drumroll please)

4)  Singers take side jobs like singing at Bar Mitzvahs.   Fact or fiction?

Fact.  Happens all the time.  I can’t say a Bar Mitzvah is the one I hear about the most (but it was hilarious to see Karen totally blow it on the Hava Nagila).  Usually people sing upscale private parties or concerts.  They are great for fast cast. True, true, true.  On the fancy side it can be a Broadway themed pops concerts with symphonies for about $1000 per performance.  On the un-fancy side it’s a wedding for 50 bucks for your cousin Kay.

The next question is unrelated to SMASH, but so fun and topical I can’t pass it up.

5)  In a theater there is a “deluge” curtain and it is the final precaution in case of fire.  It can go off without warning and drench a set and orchestra pit.  Fact or fiction?

Fact.  And let me tell you why and what happened.  This week at the Marquis theater on Broadway, someone accidentally tripped the **deluge curtain and flooded the stage.

**Drencher or deluge system – a large reservoir of water stored above the stage which, when released in case of fire, will flood the stage in an attempt to extinguish any flames.

My husband has been working on the Broadway revival of Evita which is playing the Marquis Theater, and he got a call that he had to come fast because it was “raining” onstage.  When I say “raining” please don’t just picture a small sprinkler.  We are talking about 10,000 gallons of water being released over a ten minute time period, and it fell like a monsoon in the tropics.  The cast and creative team was in the house getting notes (they had just had their first “preview” performance) when suddenly the water came flying down.  People jumped into the orchestra pit to save the orchestra scores and instruments as the entire stage flooded and the water flowed down into the orchestra pit.  By the time my husband got there (he is the music copyist) the orchestra scores were draped all over the seats and drying.  I don’t have a picture of that (I wish I did), but I do have a picture of what the scores looked like.  Here you go:

Look how dirty and black the water was.  It had been sitting in that deluge tank for years and years.

Look how dirty and black the water was. It had been sitting in that deluge tank for years and years.

And even with all this damage, they managed to get the show back up and running for a performance tonight.  Ain’t Broadway grand?

This brings us to the conclusion of this week’s FACT or FICTION?  Thanks for swinging by!

(For SMASH Fact or fiction episode 7, go here.)






About Sharon Wheatley

I'm a mother, an actress and a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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13 Responses to SMASH Fact or Fiction? Episode 6 "Chemistry"

  1. Sarah says:

    Eew, that deluge water must have reeked. But couldn't they just have printed new copies of the score? Surely someone had it on a computer.

  2. Pamela Dayton says:

    Heard about your "Smash" blog on all that chat! Love it! Ironically, you and I were both called in for that "Sister Act" audition! Hasn't anyone commented about KMP having a relationship with an Englishmen who works in the Mayors office? HUH!?! In what circles would they have ever met? There has been no backstory in that. Wonder when they will explain that! Even though I have been in Actors Equity for over 33 years, I am learning alot from your blog! Can't wait for the next one!

    • Jeff says:

      This has been irking me as well. Not only how would they meet…but why is an englishman working for NYC? Only explanation I can think of is that they wanted to balance out the casting with one GOOD brit and one BAD brit.

  3. Karen Waggoner says:

    The first show I worked on was Dreamgirls at Candlewood Playhouse in CT. One Saturday I showed up for work to find the entire crew fishing scores out of the pit. There had been a torrential rain, power failure, and no backup for the sump pump. We bought a case of paper towels, put them between pages of the score and sat on them. When power came back on, we ironed them dry. Didn't do the 5:00 show, but did do the 9. And it taught me more than anything how cooperative the theatre world can be.

  4. Lachris says:

    Thank you for this very interesting series!! I had so much fun reading it. Would you mind if I translate the whole thing into my language and share with readers in China? Please keep up the good work! :D

    • sswheatley says:


      • Lachris says:

        I have to ask again, 'cause your response looks positive, but do you mean "Sure! I do mind, don't translate." Or "Sure, go ahead and do it"?

        Now you're having doubts if I can be faithful in the translation. Well, I promise to include your credit and original links. But still, I don't want to steal anything, so I wouldn't post the translation if you don't allow.

        Best, JC

      • Sharon Wheatley says:

        Sorry, I meant sure go ahead. I have no problem with it as long as you credit me and offer a link to my post.

  5. Lois Farber says:

    I found your blog by chance and enjoy reading it. I'd like to offer one factual correction about Richard Rodgers – later in his career, he worked with several other lyricists. This is from the NPR website:

    Despite Hammerstein's death in 1960, Rodgers continued to write for the Broadway stage. His first solo entry, NO STRINGS in 1962, earned him two Tony Awards for music and lyrics, and was followed by DO I HEAR A WALTZ? (1965, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim), TWO BY TWO (1970, lyrics by Martin Charnin), REX (1976, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) and I REMEMBER MAMA (1979, lyrics by Martin Charnin and Raymond Jessel).

    I'm looking forward to seeing Bernadette Peters on the next episode – now that's a star!

    • sswheatley says:

      Right, yes, and you know, I know that but I decided to cut myself off and just concentrate on his "big two". I didn't mean to ignore the rest….I just didn't include them. Thanks for posting this as further reading! We'll put it on the final exam as extra credit questions. :)

  6. Christy says:

    This made me laugh…I'm an amateur performer and have done a few shows as workshops (different to the way you describe them, obviously, as we're not being paid at all) where we arrived at rehearsal to be told 'your song has changed to this one, you're okay to sight sing it, right? Oh, and here's the new version of the cafe scene'. I thought it must be more structured in professional theatre, but apparently not!

    On the plus side, it's exciting and fun…but if my income depended on how well I do it I might get more stressed!

    • Jeff says:

      Organized playwrights will often use a color coded system, making each new revision/set of pages a new color. This gives your script that newly improved, desirable and technicolor look…only crappy thing is having to transfer your stage notes from one script to the next. good ol' fashioned pencil and paper….although, I recently had a daydream… an intriguing idea of a production using ipad tablets (one per cast member) and an app that makes automatic changes…and script notes can be scribbled by finger or stylus…and ability of each cast member to view (or activiate) PSM, MD, CHOR's notes and staging diagrams etc.

      Maybe in the near future? Or if apple makes a musical about the life of Steve Jobs? :)

  7. Tony G. says:

    Hi, Ms. Wheatley! I just wanted to clear one thing up, although a lot of the time they do give steroid injections for singers (eg. Bebe who just got over tonsillitis) they do also prescribe prednisone in pill form, (like my ENT did for me, who just got over laryngitis), and although it did give me a slight headache and stomachache, I did not find myself rolling around in my bed singing and hallucinating that I was Ms. Monroe when looking in the mirror.
    That's all i wanted to add!

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