Brian d'Arcy James and John Lithgowin Sweet Smell of Success(Photo: Paul Kolnik)
Brian d'Arcy James and John Lithgow
in Sweet Smell of Success
(Photo: Paul Kolnik)
In a letter dated May 17, 2002 that was sent to Tony Award voters, the producers of the musical Sweet Smell of Success charge journalists at three major publications with undermining the production through continued written attacks. Below is a copy of the text of the letter in its entirety, taken from a copy obtained by TheaterMania:

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Dear [NAME]:

Theatre reporters for three of the industry's most significant publications--The New York Times, the New York Post and Variety--have gone out of their way to undermine Sweet Smell of Success at every opportunity. The most current illustrations relate to forecasting or reporting the Tony nominations. Articles in all three publications handicapped only one show category--Best Musical--and each minimized the prospects of only our show. For reasons we can't fathom, these attacks have not abated since our previews and seem intended to undermine the show in the eyes of audiences and now Tony voters. We fervently hope you will not be influenced by this concerted effort in the press--which, coincidentally, is the subject matter of our show!

We urge you to see Sweet Smell of Success if you have not already done so, or revisit it if you have. We are eager for your consideration because we, as producers, find ourselves in a place where many of you have been in your theatrical careers--on the wrong side of the press that covers our community.

We are passionate about our show; we believe it is courageous and bold, serious and ambitious. Please come see for yourself what Joel Siegel called "the first great musical of the 21st century." For tickets call [PHONE NUMBER].

With kindest regards,
The Sweet Smell of Success Producers

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Sweet Smell of Success is based on a novella by Ernest Lehman and on the subsequent 1957 film of the same title, co-written by Lehman and Clifford Odets and starring Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. It tells the story of the twisted, co-dependant relationship between the unscrupulous gossip columnist J.J. Hunsecker and the fawning, amoral press agent Sidney Falco.

After a tryout run in Chicago that received mixed reviews, Sweet Smell opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theater on March 14, 2002 to largely negative notices. Many of the critics expressed admiration for the contributions of composer Marvin Hamlisch, lyricist Craig Carnelia, book writer John Guare, and stars John Lithgow (Hunsecker) and Brian d'Arcy James (Falco) while expressing the opinion that the show on the whole does not work. In his TheaterMania review, David Finkle wrote that "For all of their efforts on Sweet Smell of Success, the creative team...have not inspired each other to do their best work but, rather, have somehow brought out their collective mediocre-to-worst qualities. Putting a finger on what went so indisputably and disappointingly wrong here is difficult, since the team has stuck reasonably close to the movie script."

Conversely, in a column dated March 27, TheaterMania's Peter Filichia wrote: "I'd like to go to bat for Sweet Smell of Success. I've read Ernest Lehman's original 72-page novella and I've seen the 1957 film version, so I can tell you that [Guare, Hamlisch, and Carnelia] have made the characters much more compelling than they were in the source materials." Filichia concluded his column by noting that "I've been seeing musical theater on a regular basis for more than 40 years and I do believe I can tell the worthy shows from the wastes of time and money. Sweet Smell of Success is an accomplished piece of work, and you can't be terribly interested in the future of the musical theater if you don't see it."