Sunday, June 10, 2018
When the Arts Center of the Ozarks opens its summer musical, "Smile," on June 15, it will come with a royal pedigree: The show features music by "A Chorus Line" composer Marvin Hamlisch and book by "Little Shop of Horrors" playwright and lyricist Howard Ashman. Though it garnered several Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations, the show closed a mere 48 performances after it opened on Broadway in November 1986 and is rarely revived, despite a bright, bouncy score that the New York Times said betrayed Hamlisch and Ashman's "deep affection [for] the lighthearted musical comedies of their youth."
The show's unfamiliar and fresh feel, says director Jeremiah Albers, is part of its appeal. He points out that there are hundreds of "unsung" American musicals that didn't make a big splash during their Broadway debuts. It's those unseen gems that he finds most fascinating.
WHEN — 7:30 p.m. June 15-16; 3 p.m. June 17; again June 22-24
WHERE — Arts Center of the Ozarks, 214 S. Main St. in Springdale
COST — $15-$25
INFO — 751-5441
BONUS — An Opening Night Celebration is set for 6 p.m. June 15 with champagne and desserts during intermission. Tickets are $35.
"How do you find a piece that is kind of traditional, feels like an old-fashioned programming choice, but is also a little modern and appeals to a younger audience and younger artists?" Albers asks. "I remembered this show and said to ACO, 'Take a look at this and see what you think about it.'"
Albers received his MFA in directing from the University of Arkansas and has directed several shows while in Northwest Arkansas, including "Angels in America: Perestroika" and "Life Is a Dream" at the UA and Opera in Bloom for Fayetteville Opera.
"Smile" is, on its face, a musical about a beauty pageant. But Albers says its themes go much, much deeper.
"Even though this musical was written in the 1980s, it really feels like it was speaking to this time we're in now," he says. "Some of the questions it's asking are what values really are, and do we really live by the values we project? And there are a lot of really energetic songs in it, so it really fit the bill all the way around."
Its biggest attraction might be that the audience will feel as though it is discovering a buried treasure of musical theater history, says Albers.
"The funny thing about this musical is that when it opened on Broadway in 1986, it got fairly good reviews, and audiences liked it," says Albers. "If I had to guess why it didn't work, it's because it was too small of a show in a period of Broadway that wanted falling chandeliers, flying helicopters and dancing cats. It didn't have that kind of spectacle.
"ACO is aware that this is a bit of a risky title: It's a fun challenge to market it, and I think they've done a great job. It's one of the best shows of the 1980s, and just because you haven't heard of it doesn't mean it's not great theater.
"This particular show has so much to say to our society right now," Albers concludes. "The idea of using the beauty pageant as a metaphor [for] America actually sets up a lot of questions that I think are right to be explored and that audiences are ready to tackle."
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