New York, NY — New York University. Theatre, Marvin Hamlisch, Sweet Smell of Success, Musicals, NYU, Play, Stage, New York News.
NYU Steinhardt’s production of Marvin Hamlisch’s Sweet Smell of Success! The opening night started with a posthumous induction of Marvin Hamlisch into NYU’s Musical Theater Hall of Fame. The musical score is a master piece by the late conductor.
The back of Skirball, where the Musical Sweet Smell of Success is being performed, is like a boiler room–physically and emotionally. It’s hot. The acting tape is desperately clinging on for dear life on the actors’ heads. Some of the actresses are rushing, still in their skullcaps. Though at the final act all worries seemed to melt away as the melodic sounds from both the ensemble and main characters lulled us into 1950s Manhattan. Off the bustling streets of present day New York, and into another time, lit in turquoises and tiny light bulbs.
The cast, all students of Steinhardt’s Musical Theater program, have expedited a production that normally should take a year, not a little over a month. And yet, the show is truly “Broadway” in every sense. The original production on Broadway, with music by Marvin Hamlisch (who has been posthumously inducted into Steinhardt’s Hall of Fame during opening night) and starring John Lithgow in 2002, ran after 9/11.
Broadway leading lady Kelli O’Hara, who created the role of Susan in the 2002 Sweet Smell of Success Broadway production comments:
During the dress rehearsals, Hanna Armour, from NYU Local News was able to catch up with a few of the leads backstage, as they dashed in and out of their dressing rooms, rushing to powder their faces before their moment in the spotlight.
Zach Monroe is a Second Year Masters Candidate and is portraying “JJ Hunsecker,” the dastardly cutthroat lead who runs a gossip column in New York City.
NYU Local: What was the process like leading up to this show?
Monroe: This was our fall main-stage show so we all have to audition. We go through a rigorous callback process and luckily, I wound up getting the role of JJ–and that’s an honor.
How long have you been interested in musical theater?
I’ve been performing since I was a very young child. My mother played show tunes for me when I was in a carseat. I was sort of bred to like this kind of music.
Describe your character to us.
My character is a cutthroat powerful gossip columnist. He verges on the line of sociopathic qualities because he’s reached a point in his career where people are afraid to cross him in any way. So it’s an interesting role to take on. He has a weird obsession with his sister Susan, who is from the same father but different mother, and so that line gets blurred a lot. It’s interesting to play as an actor because I feel like everybody likes to watch things that are a bit taboo. Especially in today’s world. He’s definitely an intense presence. It’s a lot of fun. It’s nice to play the villain.
How did you prep for this role?
I usually start with studying the story. This musical is based off of the 1957 movie with Burt Lancaster, so I watched that movie a bunch of times. I really studied the character. I think it’s also important to get a really good sense of the time–luckily, my grandfather lived in New York during this time period, and went to a lot of these clubs that [are featured in the musical]. I watched a lot of my favorite actors–like Daniel Day Lewis–the good-bad guys. It’s a long process but I do everything I can to get into character and put JJ Hunsecker in my body.
What other role would you like to portray in this musical?
I’d love to try Sidney because the dynamic between Sidney and I is “power” and “not power.” That’s why I take him under my wings and show him the ropes. It be a nice little challenge to do a one-eighty and get into that character. It be a fun little acting trick.
And on Broadway?
Tony in West Side Story. Or Fabrizio in Light in the Piazza.
What’s next for Zach Monroe?
I’m going to continue to get my degree. Start auditioning. And then hopefully Broadway.
Donald Coggin is a Junior and is portraying Sidney Falco, the “lucky” chap who is taken under the wing of JJ.
What has it been like working on this show?
It’s been such a great learning experience. It hasn’t really stopped, there hasn’t been a point where I’m not taking something away from it. I was pretty surprised to hear that they were doing the show again but I was excited because I knew the roles were super meaty. It was an honor to find out I was apart of it.
Did you see the previous Steinhardt production of Sweet Smell of Success, back in 2011?
It was awesome. It was the first performance I saw in the program.
Which other role in Sweet Smell of Success would you want to play?
I would love to play Dallas. Such beautiful music.
And what about on Broadway?
Leo Frank in Parade.
Delaney Parker is a Sophomore and is portraying Rita, a sexy cigarette girl and Sidney’s righthand gal.
What has being in this show been like for you?
It has been an eye opening process. It’s so different from any other show that I have been in. The role that I’m playing is completely different from anything that I’ve ever done. To be sexy [laughs]. I feel that this specific work environment has made it easy for me to do things that I normally wouldn’t do.
If you could be another role in this production, which would that be?
I would love to take a crack at Susan. It’s such a fun role because she changes from the beginning to the end…she doesn’t seem super strong but by the end of it, she gains her strength and does what she wants.
Describe your character.
She’s a little ditzy, but she has this whole other life behind her. She’s starting to feel like her life is really coming to a point, and things are going to happen for her, but it doesn’t. She’s usually very realistic.
Dream role on Broadway?
It changes a lot, but I love the show Hair and I love Sheila [writer’s note: funny enough, Sheila is an NYU student].
Other amazing cast members to look out for are Alex Hunnell, a senior playing Police Detective Kello, who is returning to the show after being apart of the 2011 version, and Gracie Nash, another senior playing JJ’s saucy secretary Madge, who was recently in “Urinetown: The Musical.” Another amazing triple-threat is Jarred Green, who will be playing Dallas before he runs off to join the West Side Story national tour!
LISTEN TO MUSIC SAMPLES (2002 Original Cast Recording)
To the New York University and the New York University Steinhardt, and the cast and crew of this production: Thank you! The Family of Marvin Hamlisch.
Related Content: Sweet Smell of Success — Musical:
Source: Source: Based on Hanna Armour NYU Local, Sept 12, 2013 article.