Bobby Smith’s talents have been seen on both sides of the footlights in the DC area and beyond. As a performer you might have recently seen him at Ford’s Theatre in 1776 as Judge Wilson or at Olney Theatre Center in Little Shop of Horrors or at MetroStage in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. That is only one side of Bobby Smith. His current project brings him back to Olney Theatre Center where he is directing a new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. He has directed and or choreographed A Grand Night for Singing and You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown for Montgomery College. Before coming to DC Bobby performed in Forever Plaid and subsequently put together numerous companies for creator Stuart Ross. He also has assisted Broadway choreographer Susan Stroman on many productions. One thing about Bobby you will see is that he is incredibly modest. That’s an unusual trait in a performer. He is also incredibly talented.
What were your first professional jobs as an actor and as a director?
My first job in professional theatre was in a production of Bye Bye Birdie at Swift Creek Mill Playhouse when I was 14 years old. I played Harvey Johnson and in my mind, it is still the best show I have ever done. Of course, I wonder how well my memory serves me. Needless to say, it was a place I felt comfortable. It helped develop my aesthetic sense and gave me self-confidence and freedom to fail and keep trying. Eventually, I moved to New York and was fortunate to be cast in the Off Broadway production of Forever Plaid. I was asked to assist Stuart Ross directing subsequent productions of that show. My job was to rehearse the shows in New York and get them on their feet before they traveled to the theatre where they were to run. I was still an actor, but this opportunity gave me experience as a director, mentoring by Stuart and the late James Raitt, as well as our producers Gene Wolsk and Steven Suskin. A year went by and I was cast in The World Goes ‘Round the brilliant tribute to the music of John Kander and Fred Ebb. Directed by Scott Ellis and choreographed by Susan Stroman. Even though I had to leave Plaid as a performer, I was still one of the “go to” people that rehearsed replacements for the New York production and staged other companies. After World Goes ‘Round closed in New York and began its national tour, I was tapped to recreate Ellis and Stroman’s work for that show. They are generous people in this business.
After working in NYC with people such as famed choreographer Susan Stroman, what brought you to the DC area?
The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego was producing Plaid for a short run. I had relocated to be with that company. The limited engagement turned into a 7 year run. I was part of that extravaganza for two years until my Mother had a debilitating stroke and I wanted to return to Virginia and be with my family. Actually I had no intention of performing or directing again. I thought I would teach.
You are currently directing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella at Olney Theatre Center. With such familiar material how will your production be different from other productions of this musical?
This adaptation is very contemporary. My intention is to embrace that style with a fantastical quality. Lots of romance and heart with an abundance of campy moments and genuine love for the score. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by amazing designers, creatives, and a powerhouse cast–colleagues, friends and new comers that simply light up the process, the rehearsal room, and this production.
You have now directed/choreographed two shows at Montgomery College. How do you enjoy working with the students?
Working with the students and the team at Montgomery College has been one of my favorite privileges. The quality of the productions and the designers and staff are exceptional. The students talent and dedication blew me away, honestly, one of the easiest most rewarding moments I have had in this area.
You are one of those people who makes his career on both sides of the footlights. Would you ever consider directing yourself in a production?
Now that would be way too much of “me” for one show. I don’t even like “me” that much, why should anyone else put up with that; Let alone buy tickets for it. I already get on my own nerves. No, but thank you for the thought.