Thursday, March 4, 2021

488. SMITH. From my (unpublished) ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE NEW YORK STAGE, 1970-1975

Don Murray, Ted Thurston, Mort Marshall.
SMITH [Musical/Fantasy/Romance/Science/Sex] B: Dean Fuller, Tony Hendra, and Matt Dubey; M/L: Matt Dubey and Dean Fuller; D: Neal Kenyon; CH: Michael Shawn; S: Fred Voelpel; C: Winn Morton; L: Martin Aronstein; P: Jordan Hott w/ Robert Anglund, Iris Kopelan, Jack Millstein, and Alexander Bedrosian; T: Eden Theatre; 5/19/73-6/3/73 (18)

Smith, which Douglas Watt dismissed as a “dud,” was a musical comedy with Pirandellian overtones about the eponymous young botanist (Don Murray) from New Jersey whose sex interests are largely confined to his research activities. This causes him to ignore the attentions of his shy, plain, female lab assistant of half-a-decade (Virginia Sandifur).

Smith would rather hire a new assistant who isn’t so solicitous. He suddenly discovers a manuscript for a musical called Smith and, before he knows what hit him, is living in the musical itself. Unable to do anything about it, he pursues the clich├ęd plot line. This takes him to the South Seas in search of a wonderful plant with the joint properties of inducing weight reduction and sexual arousal. In his wake is a voluptuous sexpot—the fantasy version of the drab young lab assistant he dismissed. Soon he and she are doing what he and she could never get around to back in the antiseptic laboratory days.

Brendan Gill came right out and called the show “a catastrophe,” and his thumbs-down feelings were shared by most. Watt dubbed the book “sorry” and Clive Barnes crushed the music as “forgettable.” The show’s attempt at satirizing musical of the 50s and 60s lacked life and wit, although a saving grace lay in several amusing sight gags based on the theatrical conventions of the musical in which Smith finds himself a prisoner. Star Don Murray, making his musical debut, was modestly received, but his singing abilities were deemed insufficient for a Broadway show.

Actually, the Eden Theatre, where Smith was produced, was not physically on Broadway but on Second Avenue and East Twelfth Street, although its seating capacity allowed it to operate on a Broadway contract. (When playing on an Off-Broadway contract, seats were roped off to limit the number of spectators.) The venue, which still stands, has a long history dating back to its use in the Yiddish theatre days and its subsequently serving as the home of the Phoenix Theatre at the turn of the 1960s.  In 1969 the original Oh! Calcutta! opened there. It was also a movie theatre for many years.

The musical numbers had titles like “Boy Meets Girl,” “There’s a Big Job Waiting for You,” “To the Ends of the Earth, “Onh-Honh-Honh!,” “How Beautiful It Was,” “You’re in New York Now,” and “Song of the Frog.”