Tuesday, April 16, 2013

News and History: A Marilyn Musical? NBC's SMASH Tributes Past Broadway Flops

Towards the beginning of the first season of Smash, the audience sees characters Julia and Tom trying to write a new musical about the life of Marilyn Monroe. They are a songwriting team who has not produced a hit in a while, but currently have Heaven on Earth, a musical, playing on Broadway at the Shubert Theatre. As it happens, these two show ideas weren't as original as audiences might think, but were presumably a nod to past Broadway failures.

Marilyn on Broadway 1983
First of all, there has already been a Marilyn Monroe musical on Broadway. In the 1980s, a huge writing team consisting of five co-composers/lyricists, plus a librettist, wrote Marilyn: An American Fable. Unfortunately for them, more writers did not mean more awards (or performances for that matter). Following 34 previews, it opened November 20, 1983 and had exactly half as many performances as previews. It was directed and choreographed by High School Musical director/choreographer Kenny Ortega as his only Broadway venture, about ten years prior to his first film which was Newsies.

Alyson Reed (who then played Cassie in A Chorus Line the movie) was nominated for a Tony and a Drama Desk for her portrayal of the title character, but won neither. And based on Frank Rich's review in the New York Times, it's a wonder this show got nominated for anything. He said, "On top of its many other failings, Marilyn is incoherent to the point of being loony. I defy anyone to explain - just for starters - why 10 chorus boys dressed in pink plumbers' costumes sing a song about bubble baths at the climax of Act II." He absolutely tore this show to shreds.

Heaven on Earth 1948
Heaven on Earth is the name of a Broadway musical with music by Jay Gorney, book and lyrics by Barry Trivers. It opened in September 1948 at the New Century Theatre and closed after only 12 performances, and of course they had no previews back then, so that was it. PlaybillVault.com describes the plot as this, "A man who lives in a Central Park treehouse has trouble finding more suitable living quarters for himself and his bride-to-be." No wonder it had such a short run. Its only slight claim to fame is that it did star David Burns, who won two Tonys later in his career. While shows that opened a year earlier could use the excuse that they didn't win a Tony because the Tonys were not around yet, this show opened in the first season that the Tony Awards were invented, when Kiss Me Kate won.

Read more about...
Heaven on Earth the 1948 musical
Marilyn: An American Fable
"Marilyn Musical About Monroe's Magic" by Frank Rich


  1. Broadway flops. So sad...
    THat's really interesting that they'd borrow those for Smash. (I never would have guessed...)
    Great article, keep it up!!

  2. Right? Although, sometimes there are Broadway shows that need to go.... haha
    And I miss Smash! (or at least season 1)