On Friday, July 13, I ventured into Westside Theatre/Upstairs to see an original musical called The Last Smoker in America. Written by Bill Russel, with music by Peter Melnick, Last Smoker chronicles the story of the last smoker in America after a new regime enacts directives outlawing smoking entirely on pain of imprisonment.
Pam, played by Farah Alvin, doesn’t take too well to the news. Her husband isn’t the most faithful, her son is insane, and her nosy neighbor constantly grinds on her nerves, leaving her in a position where only “smoking makes [her] happy.” The story plays out over the course of a year, utilizing musical flashbacks to better days, until her final rebellion against the no-smoking laws comes to an explosive end.
Natalie Venetia Belcon, as the annoying neighbor Phyllis, not only captures all the nuances of such a hypocritical character in endlessly amusing permutations, she has an unbelievable set of lungs to boot. From “Let the Lord Be Your Addiction” to “If Our Lungs Could Only Talk,” you just want her to keep singing.
Speaking of musical numbers, one stands out from all the others. Jake Boyd, playing the Last Smoker’s teenage son, belts it out in “Gangsta,” a phenomenal rap number wherein the whitest suburban boy in the world repeatedly insists he’s actually black. I laughed so hard I thought I might pee. Boyd also has a memorable comedic moment towards the end, while he chews on a poster while strung out on some Ritalin-like medication.
Costume Designer Michael McDonald also brings his A-game to the show. Highlights of his design are seen during several musical numbers, notably the disco costumes and the Irish step dancing ensembles. McDonald’s attention to detail was also lovely and visible in outfits like Pam’s camo gear after she returns from her time in the wilderness.
My only complaint is that occasionally I had trouble understanding John Bolton as Ernie during several of his songs. I could only follow about half of “I Wanna Call You –“ and even less of “Straight White Man” – whether this was because the singer wasn’t enunciating clearly or because the sound tech was losing him in the band a little too much, I can’t say for sure.
It’s a musical romp through a familiar and slightly alarming future. The cast has an excellent dynamic together and it’s an altogether lighthearted and fun evening. Overall, The Last Smoker in America is worth every penny of its ticket price. You can purchase tickets and find out more information about the show through The Last Smoker in America’s website.