Hold That Pose - Smile on Broadway
Smile opened on Broaday 25 years ago this month and bad on me for not realizing it earlier. If it weren’t for original cast member, Mia Malm, noting it on our Facebook page, I would have missed the anniversary entirely. To say that opening night was a crazy and tense time is, at best, an understatement. Howard was feeling battered and bruised by the process of getting the show on its feet and though we’ve never discussed it, I can’t imagine that composer Marvin Hamisch felt much better. Both men looked exhausted, though in a tribute to makeup and youth, the young women who made up 90% of the cast, all looked dewy and upbeat.
Though not perhaps dewy enough. Jodi Benson, who played Doria Hudson, one of the leads, told me that at one point, fairly long into the process, the producers decided that the girls were too old for their parts (they weren’t) and at least some needed to be recast. Furious, Howard’s assistant, Albert Tavares, took over, reapplying the girls’ makeup - putting on less, making the tones softer. Essentially, he washed off their mascara and wiped their lipstick away. Problem solved – well, at least one problem solved.
One day shortly before the show opened, my husband Ron went to the theater district to take some pictures of the show’s poster towering over Broadway. He was about to take his shot when he spotted Howard and Marty Robinson (creator and puppeteer of the original Audrey II). Ron wanted to take a photo of Howard with the very high poster but there was no way to get them both into the same frame. Howard was a tall guy but not that tall. So Marty volunteered to lift Howard onto his shoulders. Which still didn’t work. Eventually, Marty stood in the middle of Broadway with Howard on his shoulders while Ron took the picture. Here it is, Howard and his poster.
Seeing Howard in the lobby on opening night, I might have known something was wrong. He looked distraught But then again, he always looked distraught on opening nights.
I know now that he had already gotten an, “it’s not good,” heads up from the show’s publicist about the next day’s mixed reviews.
This despite the crystal that Smile’s choreographer, Mary Kyte, had placed under Frank Rich’s seat on critic’s night. Yes, boys and girls, new age isn’t as new as you might think.
As soon as the show ended, Ron and I sprinted to the New York Times building on 43rd Street. We grabbed the second paper out the door (Marvin Hamlisch had the first) and scanned the theater page.
The publicist had been right. It wasn’t good.
There have been a few times in my life when I just wanted to hit rewind. When I knew that what I had just seen wasn’t right. There had clearly been a misunderstanding.
This was one of those nights.
Yes, I’m Howard’s longest-running fan and it’s hard, nigh-onto impossible, for me to admit that I don’t absolutely love everything he ever wrote (confessional blog moment: I never much liked The Worse He Treats me, a song that was written and quickly dropped from LSOH) but with all my heart, I’ve always loved Smile.
I love the songs and the show’s structure, I love the characters and the 70’s references that didn’t seem that old back in 1986. I love Big Bob’s cluelessness, Doria’s poetic un-striptease and even Maria’s quacamole.
Smile has found a second life in high schools (lots of parts for girls) but I live in hope of a more substantial revival – someday, when the time is right.