`Smell of the Kill’

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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the April 10, 2002

edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

On Broaway: A Lingering Smell

Just how long the smell will linger on Broadway is

anybody’s guess. But if critical dismissal and public revulsion

accounts

for anything, two shows that taxed not only our olfactory glands but

our patience as well — "The Sweet Smell of Success," and

"The Smell of the Kill" — will soon be memories.

What can be sadder news on the Rialto than when a large-scale musical

armed with oodles of talent and driven by optimistic buzz lands and

bombs. Based on the acerbic 1957 film noir classic that was inspired

by the life of gossip columnist Walter Winchell, "The Sweet Smell

of Success" has been turned into a musical that woefully

illustrates

what happens when everything that can go wrong in an adaptation does.

First and foremost, a composer drives a musical play. It doesn’t take

a musical theater maven to wonder why Marvin Hamlisch, the composer

best known for "A Chorus Line," and less so for just about

everything else he has written for the stage, was considered the

composer

of choice. Rather than providing a pulsating, venomous musical

underbelly

for all the nasty doings that make up the plot, his score is dreary,

bland, and banal. Hamlisch’s score is only occasionally abetted by

any sharp lyrics from Craig Carnelia, and it most grievously lacks

the sort of richly mean-spirited flavor the show desperately needs.

Where were Kander and Ebb?

That we expected more from John Guare’s adaptation of the material,

which embroiders Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman’s tough and tangy

original screenplay (after Lehman’s novella) with just enough

half-hearted

cynicism and half-baked venom to diffuse the story of Sidney Falco

(Brian d’Arcy James), a groveling, amoral press agent, who, in his

reach for success, becomes the pawn of J.J. Hunsecker (John Lithgow),

a powerful but unscrupulous and vindictive columnist.

Of course, we can cope with musicals in which odious characters sing

and dance their way through despicable deeds. But it helps to have

at least one character to empathize with. There are none to be found

among these despicable denizens of McCarthy-era Broadway.

The immensely talented Lithgow is hard pressed to be convincing as

the steely and malicious Hunsecker, and the equally hard-working

James,

appears less driven by his character’s desire to replace Hunsecker

than by an actor’s need to make his material work. For desultory

diversion,

there is Susan (played without much life by Kelli O’Hara), who has

to deal with Hunsecker’s incestuous (he is her half-brother) and

possessive

feelings for her. Hunsecker’s goal to destroy the relationship she

has with Dallas (Jack Noseworthy), a second-rate saloon singer.

Also following the action of the main characters is the chorus (Greek,

in nature, mostly attired in trench coats) that also tend to prowl

around the darker corridors (amid imaginative, if irrelevant, bursts

of choreography by Christopher Wheeldon) of Broadway and selected

haunts designed by Bob Crowley. There is no denying the skill,

however,

of director Nicholas Hytner, who makes it all go quickly and

efficiently,

and not quite as painfully as you might expect. But, if you happen

to find yourself at the show and you suddenly feel the urge to unwrap

that sourball in your pocket or purse — go ahead. One star. Don’t

blame us.

— Simon Saltzman

The Sweet Smell of Success, Martin Beck Theater, 302 West

45th Street, New York. $26 to $96. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or

212-239-6200.

Top Of Page
`Smell of the Kill’

There are three unseen characters (objectionable

husbands,

as it were) who get locked up in a basement meat locker about half-way

through Michele Lowe’s 70-minute comedy, "The Smell of the

Kill."

Although we only hear their voices, the actors have the good fortune

not to have to show their faces in what has to be one of the most

inane and imbecilic plays of all time.

While playing some sort golf game in the (off-stage) living room,

these three men are also smugly hurling crude remarks (not to mention

a plate that shatters) and abusive orders through a kitchen door at

their three wives who are entertaining themselves in the kitchen.

The kitchen entertainment is, of course, gossip and venting of their

general unhappiness with the three boors to whom they are married.

The men then take a breather and venture to the lower depths, only

to find themselves unable to get out of the deep freeze.

For the remainder of the play, the wives consider whether or not to

let them out. There is neither physical comedy nor witty talk to

propel

a plot that could conceivably have the makings of a farce. There is

never a doubt as to the wives’ decision or to our wish to end our

own suffering. Without a trace physical comedy nor a single line of

funny dialogue, the three game actors are left on stage to do what

they can with the kind of stupid revelations about themselves that

make them seem as disposable and dispensable as their spouses.

Even under the supportive direction of Christopher Ashley, the three

valiant actors — Lisa Emery, Claudia Shear and Jessica Stone —

are unable to transcend the puerile amateurism of the play. I did

get a laugh out of designer David Gallo’s massive and spiffy kitchen

that looks as if it were created for a swank catering establishment.

Now if the three wives had plans to chop up their soon-to-be frozen

spouses and start making meat pies — but, hasn’t that play already

been written? This is the play for those that missed the legendary

"Moose Murders" and who have been patiently waiting for a

chance to see something just as execrable. One star. Don’t blame us.

— Simon Saltzman

The Smell of the Kill, Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44

Street, New York. $75. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.


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