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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the April 10, 2002
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
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
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
of choice. Rather than providing a pulsating, venomous musical
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
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
appears less driven by his character’s desire to replace Hunsecker
than by an actor’s need to make his material work. For desultory
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
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,
of director Nicholas Hytner, who makes it all go quickly and
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
— Simon Saltzman
45th Street, New York. $26 to $96. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or
There are three unseen characters (objectionable
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
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
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
Street, New York. $75. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
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