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Smash Files #2: Down & Dirty

February 21, 2012

SmashThe second and third episodes of Smash packed in a lot of drama and a lot of insight into the process of creating a Broadway musical. Episode 2, "The Callback," focused on Karen's and Ivy's battle for the lead in the Marilyn musical. The life of an actor can be quite stressful; insecurity sets in when you face rejection that much, and callback after callback can put you on edge. It's not unheard of for creative teams to hold up to 5 or more callbacks for essential casting choices. It's no wonder some people consider compromising their integrity by sleeping their way to the top...

Eileen continues her struggle to finance the Marilyn musical without her husband. Though Jerry tries to thwart her by trying to tempt Derek back to his revival of My Fair Lady and by scaring away potential investors, she soldiers on without him, flinging the occasional drink for emphasis when necessary. In reality, many great shows never see the Broadway stage not for problems with the book, score, or talent, but because there simply isn't enough investor interest. The much-anticipated revival of Funny Girl that was to be developed in California before moving to Broadway was just abandoned because of an "unfavorable economic environment." Perhaps, just as one investor complained to Eileen of the Marilyn musical, investors didn't think it could survive without an established star (Lauren Ambrose of Six Feet Under was tapped for the lead role of Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, but she has never starred in a Broadway musical before).

In episode 3, "Enter Mr. DiMaggio," Karen also begins to seriously worry about money. She has been offered an incredible opportunity: to be in the ensemble of a new Broadway show. But the life of a Broadway actor isn't always glamorous, and is a lot less lucrative than some people imagine. Karen is faced with taking $200 a week to participate in a workshop, the schedule of which forces her to miss out on shifts at her restaurant job. At some point, most actors take second jobs to finance their dreams. Many wait tables or babysit, but there are other, more creative options out there.

In another juicy sub-plot, the devious assistant Ellis gets encouragement from his friends to seek compensation since he believes he is the one who came up with the idea for a Marilyn Monroe musical. His tension with Julia heats up and he steals her notebook to get the lowdown on the show as he plots his next move. This is certainly not unheard of as creative input into Broadway shows is technically intellectual property. Director Julie Taymor just recently settled a lawsuit with the producers of Spider-Man:Turn Off the Dark after she was fired for creative differences during the show's unprecedentedly long preview period. On Broadway, the stakes are high, and everyone wants a piece of the action.

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