Happy Thursday and welcome to the seventh 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 episodeepisode two episode threeepisode four, episode five and episode six. 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 which will be opened by Bernadette Peters.
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.
This episode of SMASH featured several people running late or leaving rehearsal. Let's break it down.
1) Everyone in New York City runs late because of the subway. Fact or fiction?
Fiction, although it is an absolute FACT that the excuse "The trains are all messed up" works like a get out of jail free card in Monopoly. No matter what the reason is that you are late, the fastest and easiest thing to say is, "I got stuck on the train." Now, if you are lying and you are actually late for some other reason, you'd better be careful and not name a specific subway line. For example, if you say, "Oh man, sorry there is something wrong with the A train" and someone else is there who was just ON the A train....you're busted. Keep it vague. "The trains are messed up" is the best way to go. Also good? "Like an idiot, I thought taking a cab would be faster. Should have taken the train." Sometimes a cab can be the way to go, and it is your impulse if you are running late, but most of the time your best bet is to get on the train and not risk running into hideous traffic. This tip is especially important in the rain.
Now, in reality, if you walk into a rehearsal late and you say, "Sorry I'm late, the trains are messed up." will you always get a free pass? No. It depends on the mood of the stage manager.
And just because it made me chuckle, a follow up question.
1A) People get stuck in elevators. Fact or fiction?
Fact (obviously) but I haven't ever heard it used as an excuse to be late to rehearsal. I might file it away for later use. My favorite thing about it was that no one seemed to care at all or even say, "which one?" or "For how long?". It cracked me up.
2) If the pianist is late for rehearsal Bernadette Peters shows up and sings "Everything's Coming Up Roses"? Fact or Fiction.
Seriously, who can fault a show that has Bernadette Peters singing a musical theater song in prime time on a major network. Thrilling. Please add this to the list of "Why Smash Matters". I now expect her to show up and sing at my next rehearsal because I would like this to be a fact.
Let's talk about some workshop details.
3) Famous people come to performances of workshops and readings. Fact or fiction?
Fact, and it is really fun. These performances are almost always by invitation only and sometimes (frequently) actors do not get to invite anyone because the seats have to go to important "industry" people. Anyone can get a seat to a Broadway show, but a seat to a promising reading or workshop (like the Marilyn show in SMASH) would be a very hot and hard to get ticket (and the tickets are free, in case you are wondering). Famous producers, directors, other famous actors, high power agents, and casting directors are all in attendance. They are often a one shot deal (as we saw in SMASH) although sometimes there are numerous performances. (This depends on whether it is a "workshop" or a "reading".)
4) A workshop takes place in a rehearsal studio. Fact or fiction?
I'm on the fence about this, but I will call it a FACT and just add that most workshops actually take place in a small theater. I am not an expert on this, but my guess is if they are going to sink this much money into it and do one performance they'd want as many butts (with wallets) in the seats as possible and a rehearsal room would be too small. On the other hand, the lower budget "readings" frequently (and usually) happen in a rehearsal studio and look exactly like the scene in SMASH (minus Anjelica Huston pounding her way into the boiler room).
5) Actors watch who is coming in and everyone speculates about what "star name" could play the lead. Fact or fiction?
Fact and fact. We all watch and talk about who is coming in. Last year I did a reading of a show, had a short conversation with a guy and later found out it was James Lapine. I am an idiot when it comes to identifying famous people unless it's like...Julia Roberts or George Clooney. My friend was appalled. I was secretly happy because if I'd realized who I was talking to I probably would have been nervous. So there you go.
We do all like to talk about what star names could play a part, but the funny thing is that very often readings are packed with star power because of the small time commitment (29 hour maximum for a reading). I could list stars who performed in readings and never actually appeared in the show, but my favorite was a big reading that happened a few years ago when a famous actress married to a much more famous actor (his name might rhyme with Com Bruise) did a reading of a new musical (I can't remember which show it was) and she was terrible. (She can't sing, although I hear she was very nice). She was eventually replaced, as I recall, and with a much less famous but more talented singer/actress. Others: The very talented and adorable Evan Pappas did all the readings of THE PRODUCERS before being replaced by Matthew Broderick. Sensational Stephanie J. Block did all the readings of WICKED before being replaced by Idina Menzel. On the flip side, Jane Krakowski (from 30 Rock) did the workshop of XANADU although Kerry Butler played the role on Broadway. Bea Arthur was Mrs. Meers in an early Millie workshop with Kristin Chenoweth as Millie. Ultimately Harriet Harris and a young and unknown Sutton Foster played the roles respectively.
Fun fact. Brian Darcy James did every reading in town for a number of years and was jilted over and over again. He now plays the jilted husband of Debra Messing on SMASH. He got a part and is making the big bucks. I like it.
6) Directors and producers read Broadway chat boards. Fact or fiction?
Fact. Duh. But they will claim they don't.
And for my least favorite quote of the night (and dear SMASH please stop railing on chorus performers.)
7) People in the ensemble "turn down the wattage and can't turn it back up again." Fact or fiction?
Fiction. It is very rare to be a performer who is "always in the chorus" or a performer who "always plays the lead". People move back and forth depending on the show. Yes, absolutely, there are people who do more chorus work (I would fall into that category) but there are a lot of friends of mine who straddle both. I am not trying to say that there isn't a special zip to certain performers--I remember when I saw Kristen Chenowith in You're a Good Man Charlie Brown and it was absolutely apparent that this girl had something special. No doubt. It was palpable. That is what they want for Marilyn and while I understand and appreciate it, I wish they'd stop taking swings at the chorus. Lots of people do both chorus parts and play principal roles.
Thanks for playing!