It's New York City, 1952. After dark. Welcome to Broadway, the glamour, power, and sleaze capital of the universe.
J.J. Hunsecker rules it all with his daily gossip column in the New York Globe, syndicated to sixty million readers across America. J.J. has the goods on everyone, from the President to the latest starlet. And everyone feeds J.J.'s appetite for scandal, from J. Edgar Hoover and Senator Joseph McCarthy, down to a battalion of hungry press agents who attach their gossip to a client that J.J. might plug. When down-and-out press agent Sidney Falco tries to hitch his wagon to J.J., all while keeping secrets about his new client's relationship with J.J.'s sister, Sidney learns that you can become no one fast when J.J. turns on you.
New Line continued its 26th season with the local premiere of the fiery 2002 jazz-rock musical THE SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS, by legendary film and stage composer Marvin Hamlisch (his last theatre score), lyricist Craig Carnelia, and Tony-winning playwright John Guare, based on the famous short story and film. The show was nominated for seven Tonys, including Best Musical, Best Book, and Best Score, and eleven Drama Desk Awards. A Faustian moral nightmare, all set to a sizzling "jazz noir" score from the composer of the stage musicals A Chorus Line, They're Playing Our Song, Smile, The Goodbye Girl, and the film scores for The Sting, The Way We Were, Sophie's Choice, and many others..
The cast of New Line’s SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS included Zachary Allen Farmer as J.J. Hunsecker, Matt Pentecost as Sidney, Ann Hier as Susan, Sean Michael as Dallas, Sarah Porter as Rita, Kimi Short as Madge, with Jason Blackburn, Mara Bollini, Kent Coffel, Alison Helmer, William Pendergast, Michelle Sauer, Christopher Strawhun, and Sara Rae Womack. The show was directed by Scott Miller and Mike Dowdy-Windsor, with music direction by Jeffrey Richard Carter, choreography by Taylor Pietz, scenic and lighting design by Rob Lippert, costume design by Sarah Porter, and sound design by Elli Castonguay.
As Vanity Fair tells it, "It was conceived as a short story called 'Hunsecker Fights the World,' published in 1948 in Collier’s by Ernest Lehman, an unhappy press agent who wanted only to be a novelist and a screenwriter; it was Lehman’s attempt to expiate his guilt for being one of the little guys feeding the big columnists the stuff that made Walter Winchell more powerful than presidents. . . An insecure man, Winchell was quick to perceive slights and avenged them ruthlessly. As he wrote in his autobiography, 'I’m not a fighter. I’m a ‘waiter. I wait until I can catch an ingrate with his fly open, and then I take a picture of it.” "
The writer Michael Herr called Winchell “the wizard of the American vicarious: gossip columnist, failed vaudevillian, power broker, and journalistic demagogue, one of the most powerful and famous men of his time.” At the height of his popularity, in the late 1930s, 50 million people (two thirds of American adults) read Winchell’s syndicated column and listened to his Sunday-night radio broadcast. That's power. In today's world of the 24-hour news cycle, The Drudge Report, and Donald Trump, J.J,.'s grotesque morality doesn't seem all that foreign...
The Sweet Smell of Success contains adult language and content.
The show's original cast album and the vocal selections
The original short story and the film
The original Broadway cast of The Sweet Smell of Success on The Tonys
The PBS American Masters documentary Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did for Love
An article about the film and the real story behind it, "A Movie Marked Danger," in the April 2000 Vanity Fair
The book The Men Who Invented Broadway: Damon Runyon, Walter Winchell & Their World, by John Mosedale, about the real-life inspiration for J.J. Hunsaker, along with a history of how American journalism got to where it was in the 1950s for our story.
The book Winchell: Gossip, Power, and the Culture of Celebrity, by Neal Gabler, about nationally syndicated gossip columnist Walter Winchell, the real-life model for J.J. Hunsecker
The book Sin, Sex & Subversion: How What Was Taboo in 1950s New York Became America’s New Normal, by David Rosen
The book New York in the 50s, by Dan Wakefield