Steinhardt students prep ‘Smell of Success’ to honor show’s writerPosted on September 5, 2013 | by Su Sie Park
A group of students in the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development is set to perform Marvin Hamlisch’s “Sweet Smell of Success” at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts from Sept. 12 to 14.
The musical, about an unscrupulous newspaper columnist, will begin with a posthumous induction of Hamlisch into NYU’s Musical Theater Hall of Fame, which includes luminaries such as Jerry Herman (“La Cage Aux Folles”) and Richard Rodgers (“Oklahoma!”). Hamlisch, who passed away last year, was the only person besides Rodgers to win a Pulitzer Prize in addition to Tony, Oscar, Grammy and Emmy awards.
John Simpkins, the director of the musical and a Steinhardt professor, noted that the school put on a production of the show two years ago. Hamlisch went to the production and later spoke to Simpkins about his wishes for “Sweet Smell of Success.”
“[After the production], he and I started working on a piece together,” Simpkins said. “In those conversations, he started talking about all the things that he wished would have happened for ‘Sweet Smell of Success,’ and he thought that it deserved another chance to be seen. So [this year] we were looking for a way to honor him and bring the production back for more people to see it.”
Jane Kivnick, a Steinhardt senior cast as Susan, the main character’s sister, said this production is a big change from the 2011 show.
“I think it’s sharper, a bit edgier [and] a little bit darker because we can go a layer beneath what we did the last time,” Kivnick said. “I would call it a sleeker, smarter version of what was already a very successful production.”
“The production almost assaults you,” Simpkins said. “It’s so dangerously close to you that it forces you to understand how sinister it is and how powerful the man that it revolves around actually is.”
Students from the Steinhardt Vocal Performance program make up the entire cast, while the members of the orchestra pit are from Steinhardt’s Instrumental Performance program.
“We came together with the entire cast and the creative team since mid-August to begin our rehearsal process,” said Delaney Parker, a Steinhardt sophomore playing the role of Rita. “Since then, we’ve had seven-hour rehearsals daily to get the show on its feet.”
Alex Hunnell, Steinhardt senior who is playing Officer Kello, said it was an intense process to get the entire cast to work as a whole.
“It’s taken a lot of work to get everybody in sync [and] get the choreography together,” Hunnell said.
Jon Friestedt, another Steinhardt senior and cast member playing Otis, said working on this performance has brought back positive memories of the cast working with Hamlisch on the last production of “Sweet Smell of Success.”
“He had this great energy about him that made it really emotional for me when I found out that he passed away,” Friestedt said. “So it’s definitely really exciting to get to revisit this show of his that I think is some of his best music.”
Myers Rhoad, a Steinhardt junior in the Vocal Performance program, said she will be in the audience to watch her friends perform at Skirball instead of the Frederick Loewe Theatre, which is the usually the venue for Steinhardt performances.
“What it means for the vocal performance program is that it’s going to get a lot more exposure,” Rhoad said. “I wanted to go and support my program … I think Hamlisch is a legend.”
Jarrad Biron Green, a Steinhardt senior playing Dallas, said it is an honor to sing Hamlisch’s music.
“This show should be honored in more ways than just having this production here at NYU,” Green said.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Sept. 5 print edition. Su Sie Park is a staff writer. Email her at email@example.com.