Announcements of new musicals haven’t exactly been commonplace in the pandemic, so the news that an adaptation of the short-lived TV series Smash is in development for an unspecified debut date is a jolt of optimism about the future of Broadway. It suggests that the creative pipeline will rapidly begin to flow when it is once again safe and viable to do so.
That Smash is headed to Broadway isn’t exactly a surprise, as TV executive Robert Greenblatt began talking about the possibility the same year the show premiered: 2012. He echoed the theme once again in 2018 when a benefit concert presented the fictitious Marilyn Monroe musical within the show Bombshell for a single performance.
Lots of ideas are floated without ever coming to fruition – Trump the Musical, for example (not kidding). At one time, there was talk about fully fleshing out Bombshell, leaving the behind the scenes story, well, behind. Last week’s press release gave more weight to the ultimate destination for Smash, itself the story of the making of a Broadway musical, with Bombshell along for the ride.
The announcement yielded a somewhat mixed reception online, and not because of the ambivalent reactions to the TV show itself, which ran for a total of 32 episodes over two seasons.
It is the team bringing the show to Broadway that prompted comment. Named so far are producers Greenblatt, Steven Spielberg and Neil Meron, songwriters Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, and choreographer Joshua Bergasse, all of whom worked on the series. Joining them as book writers are Rick Elice and Bob Martin.
That these are all men, indeed all white men, suggested to some that when Broadway returns, a historically male-dominated field will remain much the same. That’s a lot to lay at the feet of a single show, but in the absence of any other indicators, it has prompted social media outcry from inside the Broadway beltway and beyond.
Some of that commentary has been focused on the absence of Theresa Rebeck, the playwright who created Smash for TV and served as showrunner for its first season, before being forced out of her own work. At the time, it was a particularly vivid reminder of the authority a writer has in the theatre versus their position in TV and film. Rebeck chronicled her experience with the show in a 2017 essay. Her name appeared only in the penultimate paragraph of the Broadway announcement, in connection with the TV series.
The show’s first season, which will be the source for the stage musical, focuses on a male and female writing team along with an ongoing rivalry between two actresses vying to play Monroe; there’s also a woman producer in the mix. There was no dearth of women characters or stories under Rebeck’s aegis.
That the creative team is experienced and accomplished is hard to argue against. I happen to have cordial relationships with several members of the team and admire the work of everyone announced. But it is impossible not to notice the uniformity.
Perhaps this will be somewhat mitigated when Smash gets a director, a position notably unfilled in last week’s announcement. Given the abundance of talent out there, it would be creatively – as well as politically – shrewd for the existing team to populate the rest of the team with artists who can add an even more varied swath of personal experiences and perspectives.
No one show can solve the historic inequity on Broadway, but the creative teams of musicals certainly have the opportunity to lead the way
Producers and artists certainly have every right to choose their collaborators, and given the years it can take for a musical to reach the stage, it’s understandable that they will seek those with whom they have prior experience and, indeed, friendship. But with all of the advocacy and attention drawn to this issue in the years before the pandemic, it’s especially important that after this intermission, the field doesn’t return to its same old habits.
No one show can solve the historic inequity on Broadway in terms of gender, race, ethnicity and disability. But given the number of people on the creative teams of musicals, they certainly have the opportunity to lead the way.