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'Smile': A Musical 'warm Puppy' Of Pulchritude

November 29, 1986|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

"A hit, a hit!" cries Broadway, like the plant in "The Little Shop of Horrors"--"I must have a hit!"

Neil Simon's "Broadway Bound" may satisfy the craving, but it doesn't open until next week. "Smile," the town's latest musical, didn't knock the critics out.

It's based on the film satirizing California beauty pageants, and the Associated Press's Michael Kuchwara felt that authors Howard Ashman (book and lyrics) and Marvin Hamlisch (music) had removed a good deal of the story's bite. Still, if the audience was in the mood for "a warm puppy of a musical," Kuchwara thought that "Smile" might make it.

Variety took a positive note. "It won't make the Broadway musical hall of fame, but it's sufficiently entertaining and expertly packaged. If it can't attract profit-level business, it will be further cause for concern in the trade."

The New York Times' Frank Rich wanted to like it, but decided that, in the end, "Smiles" didn't know where it was coming from. "When a show has more endings than it does numbers in the second act, that's a sure sign that it lacks creative vitality and an igniting point of view."

Howard Kissell of the Daily News: "Blandness is the inevitable result of beauty contests, but blandness is not what you pay Broadway prices to see."

Clive Barnes in the Post: "For some, hopefully for enough, it might prove sufficient."

Off Broadway does have a nice little hit: Simon Gray's "The Common Pursuit" at the Promenade Theatre. Even John Simon liked Gray's play, for its civility and wit. Last week the New York Times did a background piece on the show, noting that "when Mr. Gray and John A. McQuiggan, his American producer, decided to bring 'The Common Pursuit' to New York from the Long Wharf Theatre, Off Broadway was their destination. . . . "

Wasn't there a Los Angeles production of "The Common Pursuit" that had a rather important part in that journey? We seem to recall a playwright named Simon Gray plugging away on a script of that name during rehearsals at the Matrix Theatre, many months after it had closed at the Long Wharf.

Keith Reddin's "Higher Standard of Living," seen earlier this season at South Coast Repertory, has opened at another Off Broadway venue, Playwrights' Horizons. Reddin's hero is an American graduate student who decides that everybody in Moscow--and, later, everybody in New York--is out to get him.

Michael Feingold of the Village Voice was amused, but unsatisfied. He called the play "a cascade of events that have little to do with human existence in the U.S. and Russia, but a great deal to do with spy movie fantasies about the omnipresent KGB (or, as we call it, CIA) and even more to do with violent, surreal surprises that help an author keep a play going without writing it."

NATIONAL THEATER NEWS: Yuri Lyubimov, the deposed director of Moscow's Taganka Theatre, has arrived in Washington to start rehearsing "Crime and Punishment" for Arena Stage. It opens Jan. 2. . . . Kathleen Turner ("Peggy Sue Got Married") opens next week in "Camille" at the Long Wharf Theatre, New Haven. . . . Eugene Lee has designed another of his gargantuan sets for "All the King's Men" at the Dallas Theater Center. Lee used a real iron foundry for "Sweeney Todd" on Broadway. . . . John Schneider's play "My Werewolf" will travel from Milwaukee's Theatre X to Chicago's Goodman Theatre in January. By full moon?

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. Comic Tom Dreesen to Bruce Bebb in the Hollywood Reporter--"There are no victimless jokes."

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