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BWW Blog: A SMASH-ing Interview with Jaime Cepero

SMASH’s Jaime Cepero (aka Ellis) talks reprising his role for Broadway, activism, more.

In May of 2020, amidst a global pandemic and the Broadway shutdown, fans of NBC's SMASH learned the long-awaited news that many have dreamed of for years: Bombshell will no longer be a fictional musical; the show is headed to Broadway. Under the title, SMASH, A New Musical, lead producers Steven Spielberg, Robert Greenblatt, and Neil Meron are developing a stage adaptation of the TV show.

Different from the one-night-only concert of Bombshell held at the Minskoff Theater in 2015, SMASH, A New Musical, will be a full-fledged Broadway production. Music and lyricists Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, (Some Like it Hot, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Hairspray) will provide the score, just as they did with the TV show, and Bob Martin (The Prom, Elf) and Rick Elice (The Cher Show, Peter and the Starcatcher) will write the book. Like Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, choreographer Joshua Bergasse will be returning to SMASH to choreograph the stage adaptation.

While it has been confirmed that some of the original creative team will be returning to SMASH, it is unconfirmed which cast members, if any, will be reprising their roles for the stage. Will Katharine McPhee play Karen Cartwright? Will Megan Hilty star as Ivy Lynn? In a perfect world, the entire cast of the television show will return for the Broadway musical, but when asked who Eva Nobelzada wants to play in SMASH, the star of Hadestown tweeted, "I would like an audition to play anything." (If Katharine McPhee can not reprise her role as Karen, Eva Noblezada seems like a great candidate to me.)

BWW Blog: A SMASH-ing Interview with Jaime CeperoUnfortunately, at this point in time, nothing is known about casting. But, after speaking to Jaime Cepero, it is safe to say that there is one role up for grabs. On SMASH, Cepero played Ellis Boyd: the conniving assistant to Tom Levitt whose goal is to become a producer of Bombshell. When asked how Cepero feels about SMASH being remade for Broadway, and if he would like to reprise his role of Ellis, Cepero shared, "SMASH developing a Broadway show is very exciting. I think it's going to provide a lot of opportunities for artists in this community and that is always a good thing. But as far as reprising my role as Ellis, I'm not sure if I can swear on BroadwayWorld, but HELL no. Ellis was fun to play at the time, and I'm grateful for the learning experience both professionally and as a human, but I'm in a place in my life where certain things and people matter more to me now than that role and that show. I'll certainly be there front row watching in full support though. I genuinely hope it turns out great!"

While Cepero's response may seem like a shock to some, Cepero has had an incredible journey when it comes to SMASH.

"SMASH came into my life at a very difficult time. I had just been evicted from an apartment that I was living in with two no longer-friends that did me dirty. I was sleeping on another friend's couch at the time. Getting that call was a huge relief and got me back on my feet, but I will never forget what it felt like to have to scrape together money to take the train to my callbacks. Sometimes I even had to walk. It sucked, but I didn't have it half as bad as some of the homeless in our city." Now, Cepero volunteers his time with UPTOWN WAGON, which delivers hot meals and clothes to the Harlem Homeless every Wednesday night at 11pm. You can check them out on Instagram at @UptownWagon.

BWW Blog: A SMASH-ing Interview with Jaime CeperoOn top of struggling with homelessness, Cepero also struggled with, and still continues to struggle with, anxiety and depression. "I am one of millions of humans in America that lives with anxiety and depression. It's just a part of who I am and while tricky, it's completely normal. As I have gotten older I found my own personal tools to manage it and stay in balance, but I was just a kid when I was filming SMASH. It was difficult living up to not only the expectations of a huge syndicated network TV show, but the ones I created in my own head. That... made for a difficult experience. But, I will always look back on SMASH as a special time in my life. I met incredible people and got to witness incredible performances. I learned so many things just by being in that room. I'd certainly not be the person I am today without it, both professionally and as a human."

Aside from Cepero's acting, one of his greatest assets is his openness and activism for change. Like Ellis, Cepero is smart, driven, and will do whatever it takes to solicit change; whether it be in reference to Broadway or not.

BWW Blog: A SMASH-ing Interview with Jaime Cepero"If I can speak candidly, SMASH was white as hell. From the team right down to the actors cast. In a sense that made it pretty true to the form of the Broadway experience. Broadway is a white dominated industry from the ground up. I have said it before and I'll say it again, that has got to change. As an Afro-Latinx artist working on SMASH was not always easy. Some days I had a ball and others I dealt with microaggressions and an unawareness from coworkers that comes with the spoils of white privilege. It was my first job so I was always encouraged to keep my head low and be grateful. I could be punished by earning the label of being 'difficult.' It was a different time back in 2012, but Black Indiginous and POC artists are done doing that. 'That's just the way the business is' is no longer a valid excuse. Broadway must reflect the community that makes it so great. That means seeing Black Indigenous and POC folks in every room, at every level, across the entire industry. Getting through that experience taught me that I am a part of a long line of artists that have had to bite their lips and do the same. I want future generations to have a different experience. We deserve that. We always have. As far as the show moving to Broadway, I can only hope the SMASH team is smart enough to make sure they do better in that regard this time around."

BWW Blog: A SMASH-ing Interview with Jaime Cepero
Members of Jaime's collective--
Condola Rashad (who played Ellis' girlfriend in SMASH)
Marti Hould Cummings,and Shakina Nayfack

Broadway activism aside, Cepero is an activist for the LGBTQIA community as well. "Activism for the LGBTQIA community is important to me because I am a queer afro-Latinx man. Our rights have been under attack relentlessly for the past four years with Trump in office, and that lit a fire in me. That fire pushed me to found a group with some like-minded friends this summer called INTERSECTIONAL VOICES COLLECTIVE. We have organized dozens of protests and demonstrations since then, including a big Juneteenth Jubilee... You can follow our work as a group @intersectionalvoicescollective on Instagram."

After last year's Juneteenth Jubilee, Cepero is working with the community in Harlem to plan a second annual celebration. "We plan on making it even bigger this summer, with even more big Broadway names and musical guests... [the Jubilee] was queer centered, as most Juneteenth events are not, and we focus on Black Trans Women as a pinnacle of the event to bring focus to the outstanding number of Black Trans Women murdered each year."

What does Cepero hope to see in the Broadway production of SMASH? "I hope the next Ellis is a black actor. I also hope they have as much fun wearing those shoes as I did, with a little bit less of the struggle. Wherever you are Ellis #2, I'll see you on opening night! I hope to see a diverse and exciting cast and I hope to see a diverse and exciting team. And yeah, I hope they do give Ellis a dope comedy number where he fantasizes about being the head cheese. If you need a black composer to help get in Ellis's head, y'all know where I am. If anyone knows who that kid is and what he would say, it's me!"


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From This Author Student Blogger: Kyle Morales