Theater Review: 'The Last Smoker in America' -- 1.5 stars
The Last Smoker in America
Those who miss the thrill of smoking cigarettes in bars and restaurants can take solace in "The Last Smoker in America," a gutsy but over-the-top and irritating musical satire that mocks government bans on unhealthy but pleasurable practices.
Set in a futuristic nation where smoking has been banned and the mere possession of a cigarette is punished with 20 years of hard labor in Poughkeepsie, it mainly observes Pam (Farah Alvin), an overstressed and extremely tense wife and mother in desperate need of a nicotine fix.
Just take a look at the people around Pam: an out-of-work husband (John Bolton) who dreams of being a rock star, a video game-loving teenage son (Jake Boyd) who strangely believes he is a black rapper, and a painfully perky, Jesus-obsessed next-door-neighbor (Natalie Venetia Belcon). There's also a robotic, talking alarm in her kitchen that keeps updating her on the penalties for smoking.
The musical premiered three years ago at the New York Musical Theatre Festival and has since been substantially revised. As directed by Andy Sandberg, it proves to be an elaborate production with glitzy costumes and a hardworking cast.
The quirky and very talented Alvin, who has previously appeared in many forgettable Off-Broadway musicals, receives a long-overdue breakout role as Pam, capturing the character's evolution from depression to assertive politics and frenzied madness.
Nevertheless, the chaotic 90-minute show plays out like a painful one-joke skit with very little plot. The second half, which delves into issues of terrorism, is pointless and messy.
Except for the catchy title song, Bill Russell and Peter Melnick's score is surprisingly below par, mainly full of loud and nauseating rock anthems.
If you go: "The Last Smoker in America" plays an open run at the Westside Theatre. 407 W. 43rd St., 212-239-6200 lastsmoker.com.