Imagine a United States where cigarettes are outlawed. That is the central conceit in The Last Smoker in America, an Off-Broadway musical comedy with book and lyrics by Tony Award nominee Bill Russell and music by Drama Desk Award nominee Peter Melnick. The one-act musical, directed by Andy Sandberg, officially opened to extremely positive reviews at the Westside Theatre on August 2, 2012. It later closed on September 1, 2012. On June 25, 2013, The Last Smoker in America (Original Cast Recording) was released, ensuring that this boisterous, irreverent, and hysterical musical would live on in blissful aural infamy.
The star on the disc is Peter Melnick's versatile and diverse writing abilities. Across the disc, he accomplishes an eclectic mix of musical styles that keeps the album sounding freshly inventive, while providing an utterly fun and funky experience for listeners. He uses traditional Broadway harmonizing in many of the duets, trios, and quartets. Then he showcases his ability for gospel on numbers like "Let the Lord Be Your Addiction," broadly accessible Hip-Hop/Rap on "Gangsta," 80s Hair Metal on "Straight White Man," and 60s era music on "The Last Smoker in America," and Contemporary Rock, Emo, and Irish Jig on "I Wanna Call You -".
Bill Russell's lyrics are overflowing with catchy and clever wit. The most impressive aspect of these lyrics is that they remain funny. Even with multiple listens, their novelty never runs thin. They consistently bring a smile to the face and joy to the ears.
Starring as cigarette-addicted Pam, Farah Alvin is an absolute triumph on the album. She shows range and skills, bouncing from comedic and light numbers to more serious and beautifully melodic songs. On "How Can I Quit Now?" and "Smoking Makes Me Happy" her frantic and frenetic ravings take listeners to the brink of intense insanity in many of the same ways that Alice Ripley's Diana Goodman did in Next to Normal. She shows her softer, melodious chops on numbers like "You're the Only Friend I've Got" and "The Last Smoker in America."
John Bolton, who fills his character with a resounding humorous energy, makes Pam's husband, Eddie, charmingly relatable. He opens the album with a quaint rendition of the amusing "Prologue" and skillfully closes the album with an astounding vocal versatility that ranges from rock to traditional Broadway on "The Last Smoker in America (Reprise)." Moreover, he completely blows listeners away with his rollicking and ebullient numbers "Straight White Man" and "I Wanna Call You -." His voice is also sumptuously rousing on the Gospel styling of "If It Feels This Good" too.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Natalie Venetia Belcon as Phyllis, Pam and Eddie's relentlessly nosy neighbor, is absolutely phenomenal. She moves listeners through many laughs and mesmerizes us with gorgeous and powerful vocals, especially on the Gospel infused numbers like "Let the Lord Be Your Addiction" and "If It Feels This Good." She also enchants and beguiles with excellent comedic timing on "If Our Lungs Could Only Talk."
Jake Boyd exquisitely sings the role of Jimmy, Pam and Eddie's teenage son. He raps with sidesplitting results on "Gangsta" and moves our hearts with his charismatic grace and poignancy on the surprisingly emotive "Second-Hand Smoke."
Fred Lassen conducts the band with tangible enthusiasm. Steve Count on Bass, Perry Cavari on Drums, and Matt Hinkley on Guitar all play the music with laudable proficiency. Overall, the highly entertaining album is jocular, acerbic, and unexpectedly touching. The Last Smoker in America (Original Cast Recording) is Produced by Joel Moss and Melnick. Moss also Recorded and Mixed the album, pristinely capturing the comical score and lyrics. Yellow Sound Label Inc is distributing the album.
The Last Smoker in America (Original Cast Recording) was released on June 25. Digital copies can be purchased at iTunes and Amazon. Physical copies can be purchased anywhere music is sold.