Alexis Smith found her stardom renewed when she created the role of Phyllis Rogers Stone in the landmark original Broadway production of Follies. Magazine covers, interviews and a Tony Award awaited the former Warner Bros player, who was subjected to projects rejected by Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. The success was such that the non-singing star was suddenly finding a second career in musicals, including stock productions of Pal Joey and Applause, playing similar personalities. However, after Follies, she only appeared in one more Broadway musical.
Platinum was a disco-era musical about a movie star of the 40s and 50s who decides to make a comeback in the music industry in the 1970s. The score was written by Gary William Friedman and Will Holt, who had a hit with The Me Nobody Knows. The book was originally written by Louis LaRusso II and the whole production was staged by Tommy Tune. The show’s premiere under the title Sunset was at the Studio Arena Theatre in Buffalo in 1977. Richard Cox costarred as a younger rock star on his way down and major love interest.
With a new book by Holt and Bruce Vilanch, with new direction/choreography from Joe Layton, the rechristened Platinum opened on Broadway at the Mark Hellinger Theatre. The day of the Broadway opening, the cast appeared on The Merv Griffin Show. Lisa Mordente (daughter of Chita Rivera) and Cox performed “Sunset City.” Then Smith sat down for a chat with Merv, Ethel Merman and Shelley Winters, a motley crew (and it’s especially amusing watching Winters hijack the conversation to talk about her upcoming role in the TV movie Elvis). All three ladies to share a common bond – they were all the sole, above the title billed star of a major Broadway musical (Winters starred in the short-lived Minnie’s Boys). While Griffin touted the show as the next big thing, it was eviscerated by the critics and closed after 33 performances. Smith did receive great notices from the critics as well as a Tony nomination, but her future musical theatre work was in concerts and stock tours. Here’s that opening night appearance with Merv Griffin.
But Platinum refuses to die. The show was revised in the early 80s and was revived off-Broadway in 1983 with Tammy Grimes under the new title Sunset. That production closed on opening night. This summer Ben West and his UnsungMusicalsCo, who brought us How Now Dow Jones last summer, gave the show another chance at this year’s Fringe Festival. Smith herself revisited the show in 1982 when she sang her big opening number “Nothing But” at the Kennedy Center: