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Interview with Rex Smith

Meeting Rex was very interesting for me personally. About eight years ago, he was a constant fixture in my home. Well, not him exactly, but his video of The Pirates of Penzance had been adopted by my then 2 1/2 year old son, who played it non-stop throughout the day. Before we began I took a few minutes to tell Rex how I had found my son singing "I Am the Pirate King" at the top of his lungs, using a fireplace poker for a sword! Needless to say, we went out that day to buy a plastic sword.

Rex's wife, Courtney, joined us and posed for a picture with him. They also made an announcement to me at the end.

NR: Can you give me a little background? Where did you grow up?

RS: I was born in Jacksonville, Florida and I grew up between there and Atlanta, Georgia. I went to high school in Atlanta, Georgia, and I went to elementary school in Greenville, South Carolina. I moved up to New York when I was 20 and got signed by Columbia Records. I started out as a hard rock 'n roller. First I was in a band called "Rex" then I was touring with Ted Nugent for two years, opening up for Ted Nugent. At Columbia I had two albums. And then I did a TV movie, Sooner or Later, became a teen idol, and then all that hard rock 'n roll went out the window and at the same time I discovered Broadway. It was probably the smartest move I ever made. I felt that I found a place where I could grow up and mature and have worth, and portray characters, and fill a need for myself and others throughout my life, and every year of my life, no matter how old I became. I think theater's going to be that, and so far it has. It's been a great place to be.

NR: When did you decide to perform? Have you always wanted to sing?

RS: Yeah, pretty much. I really believe that singers and great tennis players are born, not made. You're just born to do it. You can take lessons and you can learn, and you can enjoy a certain level, but to really be world class singers, and a great many athletes and that sort of thing...it's like an athletic endeavor. I think 90% of them have got to be born to do it and the other 10% is really honing your skills.

NR: What convinced you to take the risk of stepping into such an unprecedented redo here? Was that a little scary?

RS: Any Broadway opportunity is something that you look at in a serious vein. In terms of risk, my whole career, and any career really, is based on risk. So, it's already a risk. I don't really gamble. You know, I never go to a casino and gamble because my life is fraught with risk, but with that risk comes the same thrill when you come up a winner, when it works.

NR: Were you nervous about it? No one's ever done this before.

RS: If I have the benefit of five week's rehearsal to investigate and work, which I did, and from scratch, from the ground up with this character, I have pretty much after 20 years of doing this, I have a certain amount of confidence that give me five weeks and I should be able to put together a character that's worth the price of admission.

NR: So you were fine, but no one knew if the show would be fine.

RS: There were times...It was an odd situation with Rachel and I. It was odd working alone, because we worked alone and then they started bringing in the cast, two days a week for four hours a day. It was odd in that respect. But I had every confidence in Bobby Longbottom. He really was the one that convinced me. When I met him and he described to me a bit of what they were trying to do, and the fact that it was historic and it had never been done before, I welcomed that. That's a first in the history of Broadway. That's exciting to be the pathfinder, to be part of that. I think what has occurred here in this show is survival of the theater and it's a good thing. Whatever it takes to keep theater alive and going, and if this is the evolution of the beast, well then I'm glad to be part of it.

NR: Twice I have heard you say that this is the original cast. I was wondering if you could elaborate on that.

RS: What, this cast right here?

NR: Yes.

RS: As far as I am concerned, what other show is there? In my history, there is no other show. I came in, created a character from the ground up, went out, opened it for the New York Times, and to me there is so much new about this that whatever relationship it has to anything else is of no consequence to me. I have no allegiance to anything but this production, the one that I'm involved in. I wouldn't have been interested to come into this show and just be a replacement part. That doesn't interest me. But the fact that I was going to be able to create my own character. This is almost like a car, like Jaguar goes every so many years and they completely change the car and it doesn't share any parts that it used to. It's still got the emblem, but it's a different car. Yeah, it's still a Jag. So, this is completely retooled. It's a new effort. There has been some frustration. It's too bad because I think if this show opened, if it didn't have any prior history, and it opened as it was now, I think this thing would be heading for Tonys and this would be sweeping some Tonys this year. I think this would be the hot show of the year, I really do.

NR: I agree with you, although, actually, I like both versions.

RS: I'm not putting down any other versions. I just have no knowledge of the other thing. I live in California. I am not casting any shadows on any prior stuff. It is of no consequence and it's really of no interest to me. Whatever was, it wasn't my gig. This is my gig. This of course is what I'm interested in. This is where my allegiance is tied to.


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Interview conducted and photographs by Nancy Rosati.




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