Review: ‘The Last Smoker in America’

'The Last Smoker in America'

As directed by producer Andy Sandberg, this is one of those musicals where the hysterically funny premise turns out, once onstage, to be resolutely not.

A Big Brother-like machine named Asphyxia, with sirens wailing and lights flashing, tells us in “The Last Smoker in America” that anyone caught smoking will be arrested and sentenced to “20 years’ hard labor, in Poughkeepsie.” This new musical, set in a suburban kitchen in the indeterminate future, tells of the nicotine struggles of a formerly free-living couple. By the time the husband furiously attacks his wife with a song that goes “I wanna call you the C-word, because crotch rot ain’t strong enough,” Poughkeepsie sounds like a safe and sane alternative to the Westside Theater.

As directed by producer Andy Sandberg, this is one of those musicals where the hysterically funny premise turns out, once onstage, to be resolutely not. The authors — lyricist/librettist Bill Russell (“Side Show”) and composer Peter Melnick (“Adrift in Macao”) — are both men of talent; chalk it up as a bad idea gone worse. Buried in the mess are two songs with music worth salvaging, “Hangin’ Out in a Smoky Bar” and “You’re the Only Friend I’ve Got.” But that’s about it.

The cast of four give it their all, flailing their arms like wanderers sinking in quicksand. John Bolton, as the father, is the only one who comes out looking good. (For reasons unknown, his character works out his aggressions through “Riverdance” hoofing. Bolton does so with a furious grace worthy of a skit on “The Carol Burnett Show.”)

Farah Alvin tries her darndest in an impossible role, while the other two Equity members have some embarrassing things to do and say, including a gangsta rap number performed by the high-school dropout son (Jake Boyd, looking far too old).

The Last Smoker in America

Westside Upstairs; 289 seats; $87.50 top


An Andy Sandberg, Whitney Hoagland Edwards, Michael Palitz, Stephanie Rosenberg presentation of a musical in one act with music by Peter Melnick, book and lyrics by Bill Russell. Directed by Sandberg; choreographed by AC Ciulla. Music direction, arrangements and orchestrations, Fred Lassen.


Sets, Charlie Corcoran; costumes, Michael McDonald; lighting, Jeff Croiter and Grant Yeager; sound, Bart Fasbender; production stage manager, Pamela Eddington. Opened Aug. 2, 2012; reviewed July 31. Running time: 1 HOUR, 35 MIN.


Ernie - John Bolton
Pam - Farah Alvin
Jimmy - Jake Boyd
Phyllis - Natalie Venetia Belcon

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