SMILE

This post is brought to you by Priya, who actually said the last one was “helpful”. Hahaha…

So, SMILE. (In all caps, nonetheless.) This is a musical about a beauty pageant, which of course is about much more than physical beauty. (echo: of course!) On the one hand you have Brenda Freelander, the primary pageant organizer, Big Bob Freelander, her husband, and Tommy French, the choreographer, all trying to make the pageant match their ideas of what it should be. On the other, you have the most competitive contestants, Sandra-Kay (nearly perfect, but not actually a large role), Maria (disliked for using her Mexican culture in the show), and Shawn (the ruthless one).

And finally (on a third hand?) you have Robin Gibson, the innocent schoolgirl, and Doria Hudson, whose dream it is to become Miss Disneyland (or something thereabouts). Robin is definitely the most sympathize-able contestant, the honest one (and of course, highlighted with her own songs). Doria has had a hard life and no recognition in it, but she is a nice person as well. (She only cheats within the rules.)

So, we throw all of these characters together, and…comedy? Tragedy? Tragi-comedy?

Actually, in all honesty, the play is hard to associate with. You have to feel that a beauty pageant means something, but at the same time be disgusted by everything that happens in the process. For me, that’s a little much. I don’t believe in pageants in general, for many of the reasons depicted in this show. So I can’t quite sympathize with these characters, who feel it means so much. I can only watch from outside. (Of course, as Mrs. Conrad notes in the Directors Note (yes, you guys forgot the apostrophe; yes, I’m nesting parentheses), Robin herself is “as much an observer as she is a participant in the madness”.)

But the way the play ends is original. (And probably part of why it wasn’t so successful commercially.) Everything is just left hanging; the Freelander family isn’t quite stable, Robin doesn’t quite know what she’ll do, and the last song actually belongs to Doria. It’s a weird shift in the storytelling that I suppose I like intellectually, but entertainment-wise is a hard note to end on.

But it was entertaining nonetheless. And perhaps if you come in with just a bit more of an open mind than me, you’ll be able to see the characters just a little more clearly, a little more personally. They were there, but only Big Bob and Robin really connected for me.

OK, that sounds bad. It was definitely fun, definitely worth going to see! They’re “gonna shine, shine”!


Now, to the cast…random blasts of compliments and such that I hope you’ll appreciate…since there are two more performances.

  • Ravi and others: amazing shimmy, there! and all the other random roles that had to be filled in…here’s recognition for the little parts!
  • Persia: FINALLY. Well, nice job, and once more: acting, dancing, singing…proud of you for finally joining CAT. (Oh, and you can be more manly than me because 90% of my testosterone is in my vocal cords. BWA-HA-HA!)
  • Max: Yes, really a fun role. No, I did not mean because you were a douchebag! This is straight out of Hairspray or something, it’s smarmy show-biz…which is fun. Just careful on the singing…opening up the back of your mouth (and the front too) helps on the high notes.
  • Priya: it’s the little touches that help…even though your role wasn’t a major story part, you still put those bits in for effect; good job.
  • Flora: Oh, Flora. You know, some part of me still has you tagged as innocent? And now it’s not just in writing that you’ve moved well beyond that. *smirk* …Watch your rhythm on choreo sometimes, don’t think too much (or too little).
    Maybe it’s your face.
  • Emily: Haha, totally didn’t realize that was you. What a weird role…not much you personally get to do, but…well, good work. And I liked the ventriloquism. *grin*
  • Britney: I don’t know you, but your role was well-pulled-off. Especially considering it pushes the boundaries of “acceptable” satire. I was conflicted about your character, which means you did it right.
  • Amy: I don’t know you either, but Doria was such a contrast to Robin that their interaction was symbolic almost all the time. Impressive singing voice for Disneyland!
  • Jaime: Ahaha, the nasty part. I guess I don’t know you either, though I know your brother and I’ve seen you in plays before. You got the character the audience got to hate, and had fun with it.
  • Kapil: OK, I don’t know you either. Big Bob, though, was the character I was most able to sympathize with, and Bob’s Song totally surprised me. No need to strain on the high notes, just go lighter in your voice…but it was very effective as it was. Liked the ending scenes, too.
  • Pati: I DO know you…and was impressed again. A lot of that role must have been fun to act, getting to be a real b…lindly-determined woman who’s commanding everyone else. But the points where she’s close to the breaking point, and then the speech…that speech was good. Really. …One note, though, is that you’re definitely going a little flat. Think high, and no need to shout during a song. But the acting was great.
  • Karin: Yes, congratulations. Still a great singer, still a great actor. Robin’s part is of course quite different from all the others, but her general nervousness and then honesty (and then, unexpected hope and drive) came through and made the audience care. And also expecting a certain ending…anyway, the one, really the ONE critical comment I’d make is that Robin is still Robin during the dances, so maybe looking a little MORE out of place would help.

If any of that was too critical, I’m sorry, ignore me, whatever…I tend to analyze the heck out of whatever I see these days, 90% of the time. And of course it’s all been directed, set in place…break a leg on the last shows next weekend. Some final comments about the play in general…

  • My favorite song was Shine…just for that one exquisite chord in the chorus. (The second “shine”, a do-te dissonance, for anyone who likes solfege.) This chord is great when it’s nailed…be as precise as possible!
  • Why didn’t Shawn sabotage Robin, too? Did she just discount her? (But then, come to that, why didn’t she manage to sabotage everyone? I guess that wouldn’t have worked, since they’d stop the slides.)
  • What do I think about Maria? I think she was overstepping a little bit with the guacamole bribes, but Shawn’s treatment of her (and everyone else’s tacit and not-so-tacit agreement) was plainly wrong. What’s the “American” in “American Miss”? Am I a bigot for bringing that up? (Maria often mentions importing culture from Mexico.) I’d like to think no, I just don’t believe in that kind of “American”, ever.
  • Mrs. Conrad has chosen a few potentially controversial plays lately; both of this years’ have more sexual content than you’d think a high school would allow. Coming from college, this is a little weird…these actors are still kids. But they aren’t, for the most part. And they were playing themselves—all the contestants are high school pre-seniors in the play. Because this is real, you can’t say it’s not OK. Moreover, if you catch yourself thinking that sort of thing, you’ve caught on to part of the show. “It’s not a meat show.” (How many cast members would now be weirded out by this and me saying this? Hopefully you realized beforehand who you were being.)
  • It’s very much like the first act of Wicked. Really. Arguments over roommates, popularity tips, an imagined destination, a disappointment…but then again, most of these terms are pretty general. Also: “Grab some poles” » “Let’s get down to business!”
  • Even though I didn’t connect with this musical as I have some others, it’s still made me think. And besides that I did enjoy it. Great choreo, solid actors…the one thing I really would look for is the singing. I’m a singer more than an actor, so maybe it’s not surprising, but I think just more listening, more precision, would really help the large numbers. But all together that wasn’t so important…the effect was cast in magic, the Finale-as-ending was final only in the music. Congratulations on a new succesful production.

I didn’t know I had that much to say. Wow. There, Priya.

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