Broadway figures in the fourth season of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” as it did in the third season in 2019, when I wrote about all the things that this TV series on Amazon Prime got wrong about Broadway.
This time around, I’m going to focus on what it got right. And that’s really only one thing, but it’s big.
There is a Broadway opening night, circa 1960, in the third episode of season four. It’s not the sole focus of the episode, which also includes a funeral, a bar mitzvah, a strip club routine, and a concert at a folk club. But it figures prominently in the plot, and the comedy. The name of the Broadway musical is “They Came, They Danced,” which is described on the marquee as “A Musicale Set in the Mountains.” Abe Weisman (Tony Shalhoub), who (in season 3) was hired by the Village Voice to be the downtown newspaper’s theater critic, attends the show with his family wearing a very theatrical black cape, which he happily swirls around him. The musical was written by Buzz Goldberg (Brandon Uranowitz), who has been working on it for eight years, beginning in the Catskills resort which Abe and his family (including his daughter Midge Maisel) went to every summer. Indeed, Midge even played a part in the show in 1953 when she was a kid. (Everyone thought she was terrible, except Midge herself.) Abe knows Buzz personally, one summer even saving him from drowning in a lake at the resort. But when he goes back to the Voice, he admits to his editor that the show was terrible. His bad review, when published, has hilarious consequences.
Very little of the picture painted of Broadway in the episode correlates to reality. (The theater in which the scene was shot is not even a Broadway house.) While it’s true that many Broadway artists honed their talents during the 1940s and 50s in the hundreds of Catskills resorts, aka the “Borscht Belt” (Read Moss Hart’s memoir “Act One” for details), it would be unlikely that any of those shows would wind up on Broadway. (An exception: “Once on a Mattress” with music by Mary Rodgers.)
There is one spot-on inside Broadway joke during the opening night party (which takes place in the theater lobby), when Buzz gives a speech thanking people involved in the production, including the director George Abbott, saying “I think you have a future in this business, sir.” Buzz is being humorous: Abbott, born in 1887, was by 1960 a well-established, prolific and much acclaimed director, producer and playwright (There is even a second layer to this inside joke: While in 1960 he had an illustrious past, he also would indeed have a future, a remarkable one: He lived 35 more years, to the age of 107.)
But if almost everything else about the depiction of the world of Broadway in the episode is exaggerated, distorted or completely fabricated for comic effect, there is one aspect of “Mrs. Maisel” that reflects Broadway to a tee:
That’s the cast.
I counted some two dozen actors on the series who are veterans of Broadway. Shalhoub is an eight-time veteran, including for a dramatization of “Act One,” and a Tony winner for “The Band’s Visit.” Brandon Uranowitz, who plays Buzz the playwright, is a six-time veteran, and a three-time Tony nominee. Rachel Brosnahan (the Mrs. Maisel of the title) performed on Broadway in 2013 in “The Big Knife.” Michael Zegen (as the now ex-husband of Mrs. Maisel, Joel Maisel) just finished the role of the oily Broadway producer in “Trouble in Mind” Boise, the owner of the strip club where Mrs. Maisel gets a gig as the MC, is none other than Tony winner Santino Fontana. Other members of the cast with Broadway credits: Caroline Aaron (as Midge’s ex mother in law); Jason Alexander (as Abe’s old buddy and a former Broadway playwright); Marin Hinkle (as Rose, Abe’s wife and Midge’s mother); Stephanie Hsu (as Joel’s landlord and secret lover); Jane Lynch (as Sophie Lennon, Midge’s rival comic), who will be in the forthcoming revival of “Funny Girl” on Broadway. More: Kelly Bishop, Joe Carroll (as Midge’s doctor date), Veanne Cox (as a friend of Rose) Christopher Fitzgerald, Gideon Glick (as a barfly magician), Allison Guinn, Jackie Hoffman, James Monroe Iglehart (as the strip club bandleader), Josh Lemon, Sarah Styles, Kirsten Wyatt…
So step aside, “Law and Order.” The only rival “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” has for TV show as Broadway employment agency this season is “The Gilded Age” on HBO Max.