The Players' Smile offers a look at the all-American beauty pageant.
By Kay Kipling
If you’ve never seen the musical Smile, you’re not alone: This Marvin Hamlisch-Howard Ashman adaptation of the 1975 film directed by Michael Ritchie is one of those seldom-seen, indeed practically lost musicals, even though it did receive some award nominations when it debuted back in 1986.
But Smile didn’t run long, and has not been revived often. So it’s kind of intriguing to catch it for the first time at the Players Theatre.
Channing Weir, Trina Rizzo and Tara Collandra in the Players’ Smile.
This is a show about a pretty cheesy young teen beauty pageant (set in Santa Rosa, Calif., in the mid 1980s, the era of big hair), and it runs the risk of being pretty cheesy itself at times. But Smile also boasts a lot of young talent, most especially Trina Rizzo and Channing Weir as two of the contestants who become friends during the competition.
Rizzo plays Doria, a serial pageant entrant with a Southern accent and an unhappy family background. Her pageant roomie, Robin (Channing Weir), is a newcomer to the pageant circuit, and not at all sure she even wants to compete to become a “Young American Miss.” But as the prelims go on, she finds herself caught up in the drive to win—as does another contestant, Shawn (Krista Hunsicker), who’s so determined to take the tiara she sabotages the chances of one likely winner, a young Mexican-born girl (Kristina Greco), by planting an all-too-revealing picture of her where all can see it.
Not to reveal too much more of the plot, but that picture was taken by the naughty son of the pageant organizer, Brenda (Kathleen Abney), herself a long-ago contestant who’s got way too much riding on this one. And that concerns her husband, RV dealer Big Bob (Leslie Dawley), who’s supportive of his wife but wonders just how far she’ll go to make her dream come true.
All that exposition aside, Smile is not really that complicated of a musical. As you’d expect, there are several ensemble numbers where all the contestants strut their stuff, competing in categories like “Vim and Vigor” and “Scholastic Achievement” (that one apparently consists of answering a softball question from the host). There are also more reflective numbers, as when Doria sings wistfully of her attraction to Disneyland, or Big Bob ponders the direction his life has headed (Bob’s Song).
There’s plenty of opportunity to ponder your own feelings about pageants and the American fascination with all their trappings, from the glitzy-jacketed host to the sappy song directed at the winner to the motivations of someone like Brenda, who delivers a heartfelt speech about why it all matters.
But for the most part, Smile belongs to the girls, especially Rizzo, Weir and Greco, who all have powerful voices and strong stage presences. Rizzo has proven herself on the Players stage before; Weir is a newcomer (and only an eighth-grader) that we predict we’ll see more of here. And Greco practically steals the whole show with a cooking demonstration segment (including enchiladas, of course) that’s her talent number for the evening. They all almost make up for the episodic, truncated feel of the show’s book, which has an abrupt ending that leaves us feeling some issues are unresolved.
Smile runs through April 26; for tickets call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.