STAGE TO SCREENS: Joshua Safran, the New Storyteller of "Smash," Talks About Season Two

By Kenneth Jones
21 Jan 2013

Katharine McPhee and new Season Two cast member Jeremy Jordan
photo by Will Hart/NBC

Take me back to you being a fan of musical theatre. Did you go to Broadway shows as a kid? Did your folks take you?
JS: Yes. I grew up in the city, and my mom was — musicals were sort of her favorite thing in the world. The first show that I was supposed to see was Pirates of Penzance, with Linda Ronstadt on Broadway — not at the Delacorte — and I got mono and couldn't go, and my entire family went without me, and I so upset, and I remember when PBS aired it, I got so excited because it was the one show that I definitely wanted to see. I think Edwin Drood became the first show that I saw — the original. So, yeah, they took me, and I fell madly in love with it. It's actually what I wanted to do, but I knew very quickly that I didn't have the musical acumen to do so, so I kind of went into just sort of writing, and I thought I would want to be a playwright, but then Hollywood beckoned, and unfortunately I accepted.

And you have a degree from Tisch?
JS: I was there for four years. It's a BFA. It's in playwriting. They call it Dramatic Writing, but I was on the playwriting track; I was not on the screenwriting track. I always thought it was strange that they didn't divvy them up, even though within Tisch itself — within the Dramatic Writing program — they are divvied up. You choose which one to follow, but in the end, it is Dramatic Writing.

Where in the city did you grow up?
JS: I grew up on the Upper East Side, which is the "Gossip Girl" side of me. And then ["Smash"] is now the theatre side of me.

Are you a big Sondheim geek?
JS: Oh, yes, absolutely!

Are you a cast-album guy?
JS: Oh, yeah, of course. I have so many bootlegs, which I shouldn't say, actually. But, yeah, collecting cast albums, and kind of knowing all the musicals that I can has been very important for me. I remember I had this incredible theatre teacher at Horace Mann, where I went [to school], whose name is Barry Siebelt, and he was probably the biggest inspiration to me. I remember, actually: he showed the PBS version of Sunday in the Park with George to us when I was 17, and that made me want to be a writer. That's what pushed me into writing, that's what pushed me to apply to Tisch — seeing that show. He was really instrumental to me. I mean, like he was the one who would play me [the cast album of] Bajour — stuff that is in my brain now that I never would have known if it wasn't from him, and it all sort of sprang from there. Now I have, like, 45 days of musical theatre on my computer.

Isn't it amazing to think how our lives would be different if we hadn't encountered certain teachers?
JS: Absolutely. I owe so much to him, but, sadly, he passed away.