Theatre Review - 'Smash'

Posted by Alexander Hay

An ill-fated musical emerges from the archives

Tom Conti feels the power in Smash (photo by Catherine Ashmore)

The late lamented dramatist Jack Rosenthal is best remembered for his excellent semi-autobiographical television play Bar Mitzvah Boy but when he turned it into a musical it bombed. So he decided to use the whole saga as inspiration for a new piece Smash!, a comic cautionary tale about the trials and tribulations of getting a musical onto the stage. But this too proved a disaster.

Now the enterprising – and some might well say foolhardy – Menier Chocolate Factory in London SE1 have revived this 1981 work because they no doubt feel it has greater appeal in our more sophisticated times. This could certainly be said to be heartfelt piece as in showing the struggle to turn a hit novel – Whatever Happened to Tomorrow? – into a stage musical Rosenthal was writing from bitter experience. Thus he sets before us a cantankerous composer (Richard Schiff), a fantasist lyricist (Josh Cohen), a neophyte female novelist turned playwright (Natalie Walter), a cocksure director (Cameron Blakely) and a bombastic producer (Tom Conti) and has then talk, argue, agree and attack each other until no one has a shred of their original conviction about the show left.

This starts off as a rather trying scenario with the characters initially appearing as the usual recognisable stereotypes, as the action moves from New York to London, then Manchester, and finally back to London, while the clash of egos demanding the scrapping of sets, scenes and songs become wearisome. But gradually we come to share a certain sympathy with these individuals and engage in their plight.

However what really gives the evening its bite is Rosenthal’s scathing humour and there are some cherishable one liners – “In a musical, nothing’s alright until it’s too late to be changed” and “I hate my husband. That’s why I come to work nights. But I don’t sing about it!” and indeed Tamara Harvey’s well staged production does its best to maintain a consistent level of laughs.

Natalie Walter gives a commendable performance as the ever more bewildered novelist, drowning in a sea of rewrites as she prepared to adapt her work from page to stage, and coming to wish she’d never thought about GI brides in the first place. Tom Conti, making a long overdue return to the stage, gives a characteristically engaging turn as the canny Austrian producer and there is a delightful cameo from Carrie Quinlan, doubling as a dancer and waitress, who gets the biggest laughs.

‘There’s no business like show business!’ may be the maxim of the entertainment industry but the picture presented here is far from rosy!

Runs until May 8 2011.

Box office: 0207 907 7060

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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