by: Sandi Durell
What with the government seeking greater control to reign in our freedoms, could it be possible that one day Big Brother will keep eyes in our homes watching whatever we do, with crimes such as smoking fineable and jailable? The Last Smoker in America is a musical comedy that vividly gives credibility to this timely topic in 90 minutes by four top notch performers, along with all the other addictions that plague the human condition, punctuated with a lot of laughs at the Westside Theatre.
Smoking has been outlawed and although Ernie (John Bolton), who was fired from his teaching job because his real addiction is as a fast talkin’ songwriting rocker wannabe (“Straight White Man”), has kicked his smoking habit, his wife Pam (great belting Farah Alvin), the pragmatic, neurotic smoker, both in and out of the closet, and even under the penalty of incarceration, can’t and won’t give up that weed. Their teenage son Jimmy (Jake Boyd), is kept on drugs to keep him calm for behavior that needs subduing, and wants to be a black rapper (“wanna be my ‘n’ ” he spouts off to his Dad), as he slithers and slides around the stage dressed as a ghetto hip-hopper in the hysterical break-dancing “Gangsta.” Phyllis (Natalie Venetia Belcon), a great voiced, seemingly sweet and upbeat neighbor, comes off as their friend, but is the gatekeeper to this new policy of give up the puff or land in jail law and spends most of her time drinking coffee and quoting the Bible.
This show would fair well as a TV sitcom as it falls in and out of quick songs/scenes as we get to know all their real addictions. Phyllis has some telltale songs like “Let the Lord Be Your Addiction” and has been having a secret affair with Ernie that reignites in the contortions of “If It Feels This Good.” You can’t help but laugh at the frenzied comedic performances and silliness of this loosely bound story in this pop, rock, rap, hip-hopping musical comedy. Eventually, Pam has no choice but to get out of town and into the underground to join the Nicotine Resistance (“I Wanna Call You,” “Smoking Makes Me Happy”).
There’s some really clever stuff here with book and lyrics by Bill Russell (Side Show) and music by Peter Melnick. What falls flat, however, is the book itself so one gets the feeling Russell was really digging and dredging for something more.
The cast is first rate, not only as vocalists, but in their delivery of the jokes – like four characters on speed. Charlie Corcoran’s changeable, moving parts set design is brilliant, aided by Jeff Croiter and Grant Yeager’s lighting and Bart Fasbender’s sound, with cool costumes by Michael McDonald. Andy Sandberg must have had a blast directing this no holds barred production.
The Last Smoker in America has an open run at the Westside Theatre.