An hour into the new musical The Last Smoker in America, the leader of an antitobacco rally encourages the audience to play the role of abused lungs and chant, “Help! Help! Help!” Too late: I had already been silently screaming for rescue since the first scene, with no relief yet from the assault of sheer badness. Witlessly offensive and offensively witless, The Last Smoker in America belongs to that special category of what-were-they-thinking wipeouts—down there with In My Life, Dance of the Vampires, Romantic Poetry and Viagara Falls—so outrageously misconceived as to command, if nothing else, a grudging fascination at the degree of the failure.
Where to begin a list of flaws? Where to end? A garish cartoon on libertarian themes, The Last Smoker in America takes place in an America bent on persecuting nicotine users, including the show’s heroine, a suburban housewife named Pam. She is merely bland; the other three characters are actively dislikable. Pam’s hostile, jobless husband complains in song that minorities get all the breaks (“But let a white guy protest his fate / And he’ll be hearing, ‘Your pain don’t rate’”). Their African-American neighbor is a Jesus freak—and a hypocrite, natch. Their teenage son squeals for treats like a four-year-old (cooooo-kie!!!) and pretends to be a gangsta: “All my homeys love me ’cause I be black.”
Bill Russell’s herky-jerky libretto aspires to satirical farce, but punctures itself on the points it wants to make. Still, at least there are ideas in there somewhere; and Peter Melnick’s music often rises well beyond the occasion. What really makes The Last Smoker in America unbearable is the mortification you feel on behalf of the four gifted singer-actors. (Talk about wasted lungs!) Under the inept prodding of producer-director Andy Sandberg, the cast overacts to the point of grotesquery. I won’t name them; having to perform that way is humiliating enough. Suffice it to say, they are cruelly ill-used by a production fit for the ash can.—Adam Feldman
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