Review: Musical SMILE Gets Its Teeth Back

New York, NY — The 1975 dark comedy, Smile, may not be a cinema classic, but its satirical look at the hypocrisy and cut-throat competition behind the wholesome image of a small-town beauty pageant has gathered a substantial cult following through the years.


Smile - Musical Tonight 2013 Oct 22

One song, “Disneyland,” where the main character sings of the comfort she feels from that fantasy world, despite knowing it’s all fake, has since earned some degree of popularity among the piano bar and cabaret set.

As is the company’s custom, the production is staged with spirit and simplicity by director/choreographer Thomas Sabella-Mills. While the original Broadway company boasted a cast of 27, with 16 young women playing pageant contestants, music director/vocal arranger David B. Bishop gets some beautiful blends with half as many ladies playing competitors in the Musicals Tonight! cast of 18.

Set in 1985 during the week leading up to the California finals of the Young American Miss Pageant, the best realized scenes involve ensemble musical sequences (similar to what Hamlisch and his collaborators did so well in A Chorus Line), that quickly cover the multiple emotions during rehearsals and preparations.

The plot focuses on two main relationships. Doria (Jenna Pastuszek, who sings “Disneyland” with a strong belt and appealing sincerity) believes she has no chance to win the pageant when she doesn’t win the talent portion preliminary so she tries to teach her roommate, Robin (a sweet and shy Patti-Lee Meringo), the scholastic winner, the tricks of the business.

The lesser-developed plot involves the marital woes of pageant coordinator Brenda (a perky Jeanette Fitzpatrick) and her head judge husband, Big Bob (a beautifully singing Tom Lucca).

Francheska Gomez is delightfully peppy as a Mexican-American contestant who gets the score’s comic highlight, a musical cooking lesson the character created as her talent competition entry, and Sarah Ziegler has a remarkable way of sneering through a smile as the racist contestant trying to sabotage her. Funny turns are also supplied by Russell Saylor as a droll choreographer and Christopher De Angelis as the cheesy local celeb hosting the pageant.

Smile still has its foibles but the version of the show being performed by Musicals Tonight! is a big improvement over what played on Broadway and the charming bare-bones production is skillfully played by a talented and enthusiastic company.

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Source: Michael Dale at BroadwayWorld