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A CurtainUp Review
The Last Smoker in America
By Elyse Sommer
Russell, whose excellent book for the provocative Side Show earned him a Tony nomination has a compatible collaborator in shared lunacy with Melnick who composed the Drama Desk-nominated score for the Off Broadway musical Adrift in Macao. With obvious relish, they have written a show that ridicules over-zealous government intervention in our lives and its effect on an already dysfunctional family.
This iabsurdly silly 90 minutes of inanity is staged with break neck speed by director Andy Sandberg (also the show’s producer). The songs are bright, the lyrics are goofy and the story is nutty. So who’s complaining? Only those affected when the government bans the smoking of cigarettes everywhere and anywhere.
Even as each day brings more disconcerting news about stiffer penalties, including jail time for those caught with a cigarette, Pam (Farah Alvin) just can’t seem to kick the habit (“How Can I Quit Now”), nor does she want to. She hides cigarettes in the cookie jar and sneaks a quickie puff in a broom closet. Her husband Ernie’s (John Bolton) is earnestly going through withdrawal whichfinds him not only desperate in his search for a pack of nicotine, but also unable to keep his teaching job. He now spends most of his time in the basement where, he fantasizes himself a rock star composing trashy/obscene/racist songs on his guitar. Their delusional teenage son Jimmy (Jake Boyd) is addicted to video games, sugar, and listening non-stop to rap music with the result that he thinks of himself as black that is until another addiction takes its place.
So what happens to this family when their nosy and suspicious neighbor Phyllis (Natalie Venetia Belcon) comes a calling? An anti-smoking community leader/watchdog and Jesus freak (“Let the Lord Be Your Addiction”), she has her eye not only on Pam, but also on Ernie for a very different reason that would make me a spoiler to reveal. The plot hinges on Pam’s decision to desert her family, become a fugitive and underground activist in her “Fight for the Right to Light Up.” If there is a subversive anti-government element in the air, it isn’t any more hyperbolically absurdist than was Urinetown.
The highs points in this musical come from the way it has been staged as well as performed by the four amazingly versatile actors. For the most part, this compensates for any intentionally misappropriated ideologies, as well as it does for the irrationalities that surface in each of the characters.
Charlie Corcoran’s bright orange modern kitchen set is a hoot, particularly notable for the hidden panels, trap doors and set pieces that suddenly appear out of the blue (or is it out-of-the-orange?) and with the cast just as suddenly re-costumed to dance as back up for the one who having his special moment. The script and the songs allow the performers to individually peak with solos that can be best described as frenzied fantasies. Some are truly outrageous as they prompt some delightfully off-the-wall exhibitions.
The terrific Bolton couldn’t do more to make us see Ernie as a ranting wreck whose secreted rock composition “Straight White Man” turns out to be a raging compendium of jaw-dropping political incorrectness. Boyd brings the house down as the over-medicated Jimmy who, with killer body language, unleashes his black self out with the rap-propelled “Gangsta.” Belcon earns plenty of laughs as the hypocritical savior and zealot for a smoking-free community. Alvin is tenaciously funny as the frazzled Pam who finally picks up the gauntlet in her own personal crusade. Be assured that there is nothing harmful to your health when you light up with The Last Smoker in America.
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Anything Goes Cast Recording
Our review of the show
Book of Mormon -CD
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