Revolution has frequently spawned musicals, from the working-class uprisings of Evita to the cheeky protests of Urinetown. The creators of the snarky yet unsatisfying musical Smoking Bloomberg have staged their own mini-revolt in New York City: the quest of Kim, a Korean dry cleaner, to reverse the antismoking policy that threatens her business. Apparently, the 2003 law banning smoking in public spaces also decreased consumer demand for dry cleaning, as smoke-free dining and drinking produced smoke-free (and less smelly) clothing. Out on the street, Kim meets another Kim, a male Korean dry cleaner so destitute he has taken up prostitution. Seizing upon their common misfortune while being hounded by feisty factions of smokers and nonsmokers who compete for her allegiance, Kim sets out to find Mayor Mike Bloomberg and convince him to overturn the law.
Writers David Cornue, Sam Holtzapple, Warren Loy, and Chris Todd have penned a melodious and frequently witty score, including a tongue-in-cheek love duet for the Kims that makes prodigious and unexpectedly amorous use of the term "perchloroethylene," the toxic chemical used in dry cleaning. Trouble is, this ambitious satire, presented at the New York Musical Theater Festival, aims to skewer, well, seemingly everything and everybody, regardless of religious, ethnic, or smoking affiliation. The streaks of ironic commentary are so broad they frequently become tiresome and confusing. What's more, while it's difficult enough to believe in the Kims' unbridled passion for dry cleaning, the constant spoofing (which often takes the form of overdone accents, irreverent gestures, and silly one-liners) undermines any dramatic fervor and sense of justice.
Although the script craftily critiques many current and turbulent issues, including the Patriot Act and noise pollution, its bite is mostly obscured by sex jokes and distracting stereotypes. By the time Joe Camel (an actor sporting a huge stuffed animal head) struts out near the end of the show, rampant confusion has distorted any discernible morals.
Director John Ruocco has staged the flimsy material capably, if not thrillingly, and the actors all deliver fine performances. Tina Stafford and Blair Ross do excellent work with a handful of pithy roles, and Jihyen Park exhibits winning sweetness, if not quite enough sass, as the crusading Kim.
Rob Odorisio's set, anchored by racks of (what else?) dry cleaning, is both inspired and functional, while Tyler Micoleau's lighting displays a variety of appealing backgrounds. But although the lights focus tightly on the characters, the aspirations of Smoking Bloomberg are ultimately lost in a cloud of smoke.