SMASH Fact or Fiction Season 2, Episode 7 "Musical Chairs"

%%wppa%% %%photo=20%% %%size=0.5%% %%align=left%% 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.   Everyone, get your buzzers out.  This season we have big prizes behind door number one so I hope you spent your week 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 two and is probably the closing notice for Liaisons.

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.

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.

(Hello all, it’s me, I’m back and thank you to Jacob Brent for beautifully talking the reigns last week.  I’ll be honest, this week went a heavily into “fiction” territory (and what is with all the auto-tuning lately?) but I will attempt to give a fair and balanced report of fact and fiction.  Who misses Theresa Rebeck’s writing?  Me.  I do.  This lady right here.  But I digress, let’s do this.)

1)  Line readings are a normal part of rehearsal.  Fact or fiction?

Fact.  (Hey!  We got a fact!) And before all you actors get mad at me, we all know that directors (more often than we would like) give a line reading.  Sometimes it is a small suggestion, and sometimes (as we saw happen with Tom) the director gets up with the dreaded ,”Here.  Let me be you.”  and then acts out exactly what they want to see the actor do.

Maybe you are wondering what the big deal is with line readings?  I mean, what is the big deal in just telling the actor how to say it?  That’s the director’s job, right?  Not exactly.  The idea is that the director is supposed to help the actor “find” their performance because in an ideal situation it should come from the actors own instincts and emotional life, not just be a regurgitation of something someone wanted.  The best of the best directors know how to inspire and cajole a performance out of an actor without having to resort to telling them exactly how to say a line.

This leads us directly to another director related question.

2)  It is common for a composer to take over as director.  Fact or fiction.

You don’t need me to tell you this, do you?  Fiction.  Really fiction.  And in fact, if any of you can name a case where a composer took over as director for a Broadway show, I will personally come to your house and clean your toilets because that–I’m sorry–might have to be just about the most ridiculous plot point we’ve yet encountered in SMASH.  But hey, the season is not over yet, and actually this blog post isn’t over yet, so who knows?? Maybe we’ll be able to top it (the tension builds….)

I would have loved to see Christian Borle’s face when he got his script.  He HAD to have said, “So…..wait.  Tom’s the director now? ”

But let’s move on.

I know.  I’ve been so politically correct for so long and now in one blog post I am showing my true colors, but I don’t know.  Something about last night’s episode pushed me over the edge.  It’s why I had to delay posting today (and I apologize to those of you who were waiting.)  I’ll try to be Switzerland and stick to the facts and the fictions.  I’ll try (but SMASH, you are making it hard!).

3)  The book writer/lyricist of the show would be the responsible party to get the director choreographer to sign a contract stating that it was okay to use his choreography after he split ways with the show.  Fact or fiction?

Fiction.  Again, where is the General Manager and where are the agents?  Hey–have we talked about General Managers yet?  Do you know what their job is?  Let’s discuss this for a second because God knows you aren’t learning about them on SMASH.  In an absolute nutshell, a General Manager executes all of the business aspects of the show, including (but not limited to) the hiring of EVERYONE including union negotiations, contract negotiations, payroll, box office and more.  They run the show.  For a more complete description, go here.

If this situation in SMASH were real, here is how it would go down.

1)  First of all, it probably would be a non-issue because (according to a reliable friend)  Derek would have already signed a contract sharing his work to the Producer.  My friend said: “The work (meaning the choreography) belongs to the Choreographer but the Producer has the irrevocable right to use the choreography for any production of the play that the Choreographer will receive payment for – I’m not sure they really needed him to sign a rider as that would have been covered under his original agreement but they would have to pay him his fee and royalties to keep the choreography in the show.”

2)  If that contract rider needed to be signed, that would have been a conversation between the General Manager and Derek’s agent.  It just would not go down like that at all, but clearly this is a TV show, so there you go.  They wanted a dramatic intervention at a restaurant between Jack Davenport and Debra Messing.

By the way, Jacob wants to comment on how hard SMASH is working to make sure Sean Hayes (Jack) and Debra Messing (Grace) are never on screen together.  At this point I say, Hey!  Bring in Megan Mullaley and Will and let’s just watch Will and Grace.  That was a good show, NBC.  Let’s do that one again.

Oops.  I slipped again.

Back to the facts.  Okay!

4)  They give notes to actors while sitting on the steps in the lobby.  Fact or fiction?

Fact!  Yay!  I liked this and it is very authentic.  I can’t tell you how many note sessions I’ve had while sitting on the stairs in a Broadway lobby.  Very normal because sometimes they are working on something technical in the theater or the ushers are getting ready for the show, or whatever.  Bonus points to whoever can name those lobby stairs (although someone did write in and comment that the theater is the Broadway but the stage door is the Music Box!).

5)  Jeremy Jordan’s character is an idiot.  Fact or fiction?


6)  Actors read Broadway message boards.  Fact or fiction?  

Is the Pope Catholic?  Does a fish have gills?


7)  The Hit List set is actually the set of Ghost.  Fact or fiction?

Fiction, but good guess.

8)  Two actors might get together moments before opening night and make a decision to completely change the tone of a show and consult with no one and just go on and perform it completely differently than it has been rehearsed.  Fact or fiction.

Oh, fact.  You know, Cats was originally rehearsed to be Dogs but a couple of actors got together and decided to change things up before opening night, so they all went out and acted like cats instead.

By the way (and I know this is a TV show) but I just have to comment on the fact that, oh you know, the entire number was choreographed as a farce, the costumes looked like a farce, the whole idea that it was being “changed” in the moment was completely unbelievable, although the IDEA of it was funny.  The idea that a famous actor would go out there and try to save his own ass on opening night by performing the show the way he wanted to–that is possible and I’m sure HAS happened, but it came off as something between what they rehearsed and what they wanted the big change to be.  I wanted to be watching whatever Ivy was laughing at in the wings, but the truth was…it was just bad.

But, the big breasted woman was a terrific character actress named Kathy Fitzgerald who is hilarious and deserved much better treatment than having her breasts slapped and spat on.  If you want to know the honest to God truth, for me that moment was the SMASH breaking point.  She’s so talented and deserved some great material.  Instead, she was just wasted.

Another friend of mine was also in this episode, Seth Rudetsky, playing himself and doing the interview with Karen and Tom.  If you have SirrusXM radio, you have to listen to his Broadway show because he is (as he would say) ah-mah-zing.

Speaking of Karen and Tom, let’s get to the final question of the night.

9)  If you have your first lead on Broadway, and the show is being built around you, and before that you were a nobody and worked at a coffee shop, you just might quit the show to the composer-turned-director while standing on the street corner because he’s better friends with another actress.  Fact or fiction?

Every actress in New York has done that.  In fact, I confess it…I was supposed to play Elphaba in the original cast of Wicked, but I gave it up when I saw Joe Mantello laugh at Idina Menzel’s joke.  You know….it’s normal to give up a career changing part like that.  And then I decided to do an off-broadway show in a basement.  It worked out fine, you just have to keep the faith.  You should always turn down that Broadway lead.

As you may know, SMASH is moving to Saturday nights.  I think we all know that is not a good sign for any show.  This blog will now appear on Mondays.

For the next post in this series, go here.









About Sharon Wheatley

I'm a mother, an actress and a writer. I'm glad you're here.
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21 Responses to SMASH Fact or Fiction Season 2, Episode 7 "Musical Chairs"

  1. Craig says:

    Ok, "Cats" was originally rehearsed to be "Dogs"…that's a genuine lol. Thanks for this blog!

  2. Meghan says:

    I so adore your blog posts on SMASH. Last night's episode was a bit of a push over the edge for me as well, for many of the reasons you mentioned but for another too: I really resented the way they downplayed the importance of regional theatre in the creative process. I run a small company in Wisconsin. Went to the University of Michigan, did a national tour (of CATS…as Jenny, by the way!) , decided the NYC life wasn't for me. So now I do this and I appreciate that there are a great many excellent musicals that would have tanked on Broadway, but that doesn't make them any less wonderful or deserving of attention. And I don't have to tell you, and hopefully not the readers of this blog, how magical an experience can be in a space with 80 seats because of the intimacy and the innovation required of everyone involved. But SMASH perpetuates the myth that Broadway is the be all end all of success, talent, and creativity, and while it's a tremendous achievement its not the only achievement. Hit List SHOULD be in a basement. It SHOULD be in an intimate space. Derek's crazy GHOST set rotating screens completely took the focus off the song and the characters.

    Anyway, lines like "If I get this wrong it's right back to regional theatre" (Oh, woe is me, poor Collins!) and "This show is too good for eighty seats" really got to me. You have been so diplomatic in stating that this is a TV show and of course certain things are going to be exaggerated. But yes, last night's episode was just a little too much, and the comments about regional theatre really showed me that the writers of this show made very little effort to understand the world they were writing about.

    And Karen. What a moron.

  3. Iris says:

    Sharon, you've killed it with this blog and I died laughing. You're sarcasm was really refreshing. And I'm saying that in all honesty. No hint of sarcasm.

  4. cathi s says:

    Best Blog ever!

  5. Gigi says:

    this episode was beyond loopy! As a diehard fan since it began, I'm so disappointed in the story line this year, not surprising it is moving to Sat evenings, the kiss of death unless the writing improves.

  6. Amanda says:

    I thought it wasn't moving until April??? We still have two weeks left…..

  7. Maris says:

    At this point I'm basically watching the show so I "get" all the jokes in the blog! You rock.

  8. Matt Adams says:

    The sad part about this is this is it for Broadway on TV for a while. It's been expensive and a ratings and critical flop, and it will be a while before anything like ti shows up on TV again. That's too bad because there's a very neat show in there somewhere — had they avoided the Eileen/Jerry/mobsterboyfriend issue, the Elli scheming, the false conflict between Ivy and Karen, not to mention the Julia-so-husbadn-baby things — had they just made a show about all the strife that goes into creating a Broadway show, it could have been great. Instead, we got this, and this will be the stone that is hung on the neck of the next time the idea is pitched.

    I read somewhere that you thought the problem was losing TR. She had her problems, too. I think the original problem was in the idea. Instead of making Broadway's version of The West Wing, they made Broadway's version of ER, with all these subplots distracting from the overall theme. We never got to see the creative process — Tom and Julia duking it out over a scene or the tone, Derek beating his head against the wall trying to get a step right, the assembled ensemble working or drinking or bonding together. We also never got a real feel for Bombshell as a show — was it Dogs, was it Wicked, was it Anything Goes — was it a collection of scenes or was it a story? We never knew much about it beyond the segments we saw, and that hurt.

    Thanks a lot for doing your blog. It;s been a lot of fun to read for someone 1200 miles away from New York, and it was very nice of you to provide your insights.

  9. Mary Ann Hogan says:

    This season is horrible. I realized I had 4 episodes waiting on my DVR (the best indicator there could be of my aversion) and basically had to fast-forward through the first three and multi-tasked while I (sort of) watched the current episode. I think many of the people on the show are good to great actors but Smash has sadly turned into pathetic vaudeville. They all look like clowns. If this was some small town's high school production it would almost be bearable- *if* one of the actors was a relative or friend. What a waste of talent. What a waste of *my* time.

  10. Sarbanne says:

    It's about time, Sharon!!! Your SMASH blog has been great, but you overwhelmingly have proclaimed things "facts." "Hey, we got a fact!" you say to #1 above. Look at your past posts — most of your answers are "fact." Glad to see you're finally ripping into all the ridiculousness of the show. I keep watching it because I love musical theater, but I've gone from just rolling my eyes to out-and-out groaning. Thanks for shifting your tone from diplomatic to humorous (and realistic). Your comment on #9 hilarious.

  11. D. Fletcher says:

    There are a couple of examples of the writers (usually the lyricist) ending up directing the show. Oscar Hammerstein himself directed Show Boat. He didn't stage it, but he is responsible for working with the actors. Alan Jay Lerner did have to finish the direction of Camelot when Moss Hart had the heart attack, although Moss came back after the opening and made changes. Finally, Sean Matthias apparently didn't have a clue how to stage Company at the Kennedy Center in 2002, so he was sent away and the show was staged, uncredited, by Sondheim himself. Sometimes, there's God…

  12. Spoeser says:

    The Stage door was the Richard Rogers. Love your blog!

  13. Xxx says:

    I'll miss this when it gets cancelled! And I work on Smash, so I'll be out of some work too. :(

  14. Stephanie says:

    Oh Sharon. Love that you went there. #5 – Andy Mientus's character is right up there with Jeremy's for me. I couldn't believe it in the last episode when Karen suggested cutting the HIT LIST book entirely (Kyle's one contribution – he doesn't even write the lyrics!) after ONE reading and Kyle just blinked and agreed to it. FICTION FICTION FICTION.

  15. Rick Starr says:

    This season is not better, not worse, just different from Season #1. I know you’re a friend of TR, but last season had serious problems too, especially in the “unlikable characters” department: (Ellis, Jerry, Julia with the affair, Ivy with the scheming, Dev with the affair) and all the über soapy soap opera. This year it’s the scattershot plot explosion(s): Karen’s in! Karen’s out! Ivy’s back! New hip musical! Derek quits! Tom takes over! Blecch.

    Even with a massive lead in the show couldn’t hold an audience last year, and this year, without it, it’s doing even worse, way worse. It may be that “Marilyn” was just too distant for the younger demographics, and it’s too late to get them with the new, hip musical (even though the songs are decidedly more contemporary.) While Saturday nights are usually considered the graveyard for network shows, I have a tiny hope that by putting it somewhere near SNL it will find that younger audience, and coupled with a new, more likable Ivy and a musical role that suits Karen better it will attract a new set of viewers and continue. Of course I also have a tiny hope that I will win the Powerball this weekend, as well.

  16. Janie A says:

    Re Saturday night move. Maybe it's still a graveyard for network programming, but as a media writer recently pointed out, with most of us using DVR or streaming or in several ways watching the show on our own schedule, does it really matter? I guess it matters in that no one has yet figured out an accurate way to count the numbers of us who never watch TV in real time.

    • Rick Starr (again) says:

      Nielsen does include DVR viewing for up to three days as standard in the ratings they provide ad agencies. They also tabulate 7 day DVR viewing, which the networks want included (as default) and the agencies don't (because it will drive up prices. More viewers, see?) Irrelevant factoid: more viewing at 10pm is DVR than any other network.

  17. Jo_ says:

    Well, it wasn't a Broadway show but Jerry Herman directed his Off-Broadway revue, Parade, in 1960.

  18. Myra says:

    The exterior of "Manhattan Theatre Workshop" was the real New York Theatre Workshop on East 4th Street!

  19. NYCDirector says:

    Where do you even start. If you get offered a production at a respected New York theatre when you zero reputation or track record, you take it. If you don't want to make changes, write a novel. If you get this opportunity offered to you, it's for, at minimum, six months away, and therefore not in any way a conflict for your director, and probably not for your star. Are Ivy and Karen really the only two actresses in New York? Is Derek the only director? There has never in the history of theatre been a hot straight male dramaturg. Really, add one song and get instant mainstage? And by the way, as a director, I cannot do my best work unless I'm sleeping with my lead. Just.Can't.Concentrate. This show totally tramples any respect for the writing and production process. Such a waste of a kick-ass ensemble.

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