Why Joe Iconis' 'Broadway Here I Come' Almost Didn't Stay in Smash

Seth Rudetsky   Why Joe Iconis' 'Broadway Here I Come' Almost Didn't Stay in Smash
This week in the life of Seth Rudetsky, Seth shares stories from a recent interview with Be More Chill composer Joe Iconis, plus teases upcoming concerts with Jeremy Jordan and Gavin Creel.

It’s not that I forgot to write my column this week, it’s just that I kept putting it off and it’s now Friday. Regardless, here it is! Last week was my second week in L.A. and it was basically me in my hotel room with the flu and James repeatedly saying, “I better not get sick.”

My friend Marco Pennette offered to cater a full dinner party for me and my friends on my birthday (February 28) but the doctor told me that I was still contagious until I had 24 hours with no fever. Sadly, by Wednesday morning I still had fever, so I put the kibosh on the party. Ugh! I was so disappointed…although, I don’t know if my guests were that upset since I insisted it be a full vegetation meal. I guess it’s passive aggressive to invite people to dinner and then tell them their meal is basically a side salad. It reminds me of Dick Scanlan (with whom I did Pageant and who wrote the script and lyrics to Thoroughly Modern Millie) who always used to say, referring to the amount of travel time, “It’s rude to invite people to a party in Brooklyn.”

I had composer/lyricist Joe Iconis on Seth Speaks, my SiriusXM talk show. He told me that in 2012, he was doing one of his signature concerts and Joshua Safran approached him afterwards and told him that he was the new showrunner of Smash and he was interested in Joe writing music for the show. Joe later found out that Josh was a fan of his and had seen a lot of his concerts and when he submitted his spec script to get Smash, he used Joe’s song “Broadway, Here I Come” as a plot point! He actually based aspects of songwriter Jimmy Collins (played by Jeremy Jordan) on Joe.

If you don’t know, one of the musicals on Smash was called Bombshell and Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote that score and on the second season, a new show called Hit List was introduced and, at first, Joe was going to be the sole writer of the songs. Well, after that idea was floated, Joe said the powers-that-be were like “Who is this guy? He’s never had a show in NYC!” so they decided that Hit List would have multiple writers. Even though the first episode had been written to feature “Broadway, Here I Come,” certain people felt the song was too sad. Josh then asked Joe to write a similar song but make it a little peppier. Joe wrote one and hated what he wrote. And no one else particularly loved it. Joe said it then got very tense! Soon, they asked him if he would change some of the lyrics to “Broadway, Here I Come!” but he absolutely refused. He said he got very protective of the song, very “writerly” and basically like Jimmy Collins! Well, soon it was down to the wire and Josh made a decision that they were going to use the song as is…and, of course, it became a big, breakout song from the show!

PS I’ll be with Jeremy Jordan this Monday night at The Town Hall and he’ll be singing it! Get tix!

And here's Jeremy sounding amazing on “Let It Go.”

I also loved talking to Joe about the unconventional way his musical Be More Chill came to Broadway. Two River Theater in New Jersey commissioned him to write the musical and the buzz about the show was amazing. Everyone kept telling Joe that this would finally be the show that got him to Broadway. Tons of producers got tickets to see the show because there was such excitement about it. Well, it opened and got a terrible review from a big paper (which he didn’t name). Suddenly, all the producers who bought tickets to see it canceled!

The limited run finished and Two River very smartly insisted that there be a recording. Joe used it to try to get interest in the show regionally, but no one was interested. They wound up doing a concert of the show at Feinstein’s/54 Below and that got it licensed (meaning theatres, community theatres and high schools etc can do it). Still, Joe assumed the show was dead and would be done here and there and that’s it. He would once in a while get a tweet from a person who happened to come across the show then suddenly, after two years, he went to five tweets a day and then more and more. People began to be really obsessed with the show. He told me that it all happened totally organically and old school; literally, a kid would hear the album and then tell one of their friends, “You’ve got to hear this,” and the word would spread.

Joe tried again to get a production going by pointing out how much interest there was in the show, but producers kept telling him that interest online was not the same thing as people who would buy tickets. Then a theater in New Jersey happened to license a production. It was an old vaudeville house that sat thousands but usually sold around 100 tickets. Well, word got out online that the show was and instead of 200 tickets the theatre sold 5,000! People were flying in from around the world to see it!

Joe had a breakdown because he saw that interest online actually does translate to ticket sales! He was working on another project with producer Jerry Goehring and when Jerry saw the massive interest in the show he told Joe he wanted to produce it Off-Broadway. They then brought on Jennifer Ashley Tepper from Feinstein’s/54 Below, who’s always been a major supporter of Joe, and together they made it happen.

Of course, Joe was immediately panicked that his non-stop assurance that online interest would translate into ticket sales was wrong—but before the show even opened off-Broadway, the entire run sold out! Then he had to deal with the anxiety of “will it go to Broadway? Can it sustain Broadway?” He was like “Can’t I just enjoy a run of my show without complete anxiety?” Short answer. No. Well, the show indeed went to Broadway and opening night is this Sunday! And a movie version is also in the works! Yes, for the show that died years and came back on Broadway!

Gavin Creel Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Right now, I’m heading to Scottsdale with Gavin Creel because we’re doing our show together at the Scottsdale Performing Arts Center.

How much do I love his voice? I gave him this song for my Actors Fund Hair concert because I thought it wasn’t a great song to show off someone’s voice so I knew I needed someone whose voice would sound fantastic. Watch!

And finally, while in L.A., I took a road trip with James, Juli, Jack Plotnick, Kevin Chamberlin, and Adam Pascal to see a production of Disaster! at the Gem Theater in Garden Grove, California. We went on opening night and it was very exciting to see a review a few days later in the LA Times calling the show “screamingly funny!” #StillGotIt

Peace out!

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