Rex Smith has worn many hats throughout his varied career. He's been a rock star (and has a certified gold record for the 1979 single "You Take My Breath Away"); a motorcycle-riding police officer on TV's Street Hawk; the Marvel superhero the Daredevil; and a Broadway leading man in shows including The Pirates of Penzance and The Scarlet Pimpernel. After an absence of over a decade, the Los Angeles-based Smith is back in New York and gearing up to bring 54 Below his autobiographical concert, Confessions of a Teen Idol, on August 26. TheaterMania caught up with Smith to discuss his confessions and hear all about the many milestones of his working history.
How do you describe Confessions of a Teen Idol?
I call this show "Tom Jones meets Mark Twain Tonight." That's my aim. It started out as, I was writing a book about my experiences and I said, "This is a musical autobiography.'' It's a ninety-minute two-act show, for this venue shrunk down to seventy minutes. It's completely scripted, with underscoring and accompanying b-roll that I have of my shows. I found my old, pre-MTV videos of some of my Columbia and CBS recordings. I wear the hat of the young rock-and-roller, the superhero, and the Broadway star.
Tell me about your experiences as a superhero.
It's awesome, and I had no idea it was coming. As Street Hawk, I had a motorcycle going 300 miles per hour. Then, as The Daredevil, I became part of the Marvel Universe. It came out of left field, but I think that when I did the movie of The Pirates of Penzance and people saw me with the sword in my hand like Errol Flynn, it was inevitable that someone was going to tap me on the shoulder.
Tell me about your experiences working Pirates, taking it from Shakespeare in the Park to Broadway to film.
It taught me a great lesson: Follow the art, and the art will follow you. To start out as free theater in Central Park, where we weren't thinking we were heading to Broadway — we just jumped in headfirst on the adventure. It was such a unique pairing of these worlds. It was an artistic melting pot. You had Kevin Kline and George Rose and Linda Ronstadt, and a little bit of me in there, and it was a little bit like, if I was a professional surfer, it was like being on the North Shore and riding it all the way to the beach every show.
As someone from the rock scene, what was it like working with Julliard-trained actor Kevin Kline?
Kevin was the greatest education for me onstage. Before I met him, I had played Madison Square Garden, Anaheim, and every arena in between. I came from rock and roll. It was rock and roll meets Juilliard. If you can hold your own with Kevin Kline on a rainy Wednesday matinee, it's like five years of playing a grape in acting school. We spent seven months making the movie of it, and it's like lightning in a bottle. I'm so proud that there's a record of Gilbert and Sullivan out there for the next hundred years. But it didn't match a Wednesday matinee of the show.
You were last on Broadway in The Scarlet Pimpernel, and famously came into the show when Radio City Entertainment bought it from its original producers and retooled it. Tell me about that experience.
It will never be re-created in Broadway history. Madison Square Garden bought the show, brought Rachel York and me in, with Bobby Longbottom as director to reimagine [it]. They closed the show for five weeks and then reopened it. That will never happen again. In terms of engaging an audience and being engaged as a performer, it was a bookend for Pirates of Penzance. It took the audience on a journey in a hugely fun way. I loved that part.
Do you have more New York stage appearances in mind?
This is the third act of my life, this show. I'm playing clubs again. And it goes from here to the next level: Standing on stage at 54 Below, someone in the audience might be going "that guy's still delivering."
Check out Rex Smith in action, singing "This Is the Moment":