Smith at home on stage in Boston
Jules Becker | 2/8/2011, 6:16 p.m.
Kami Rushell Smith was virtually weaned on music and musical theater during her Tupelo, Miss. childhood.
The 25-year-old Boston Conservatory graduate (2009 master’s in musical theater) recalled her early introduction to jazz and other genres in a recent Banner interview. “My parents had all these records. We had this little Fisher- Price record player and jazz, soul and blues records.”
Kami’s parents also introduced her to the world of the stage. “God bless them for taking me to community theater,” she said.
Not surprisingly, she also served notice early that she could make music on her own. “My first solo at church was when I was five,” she noted. Her musical development continued as an undergraduate at Carnegie Mellon, where she took a jazz improvisation course. With her studies at Boston Conservatory, Smith fully established herself as a musical performer determined to sing on the stage. Lately she has been demonstrating her musical and acting talents in such area fare as Reagle Music Theatre’s revival of “Hairspray” and New Repertory Theatre’s local premiere of “Dessa Rose.”
She has also been honing her fine acting in Underground Railway Theatre’s local premiere of “Harriet Jacobs” and Actors’ Shakespeare Project’s revival of “Much Ado About Nothing.”
Now that considerable Hub experience is serving her well in the distinctive role of “Our Lady of the Spa” in the SpeakEasy Stage Company production of the Tony Award-winning musical “Nine” at the Calderwood Pavilion in the Boston Center for the Arts. In the musical, based on the acclaimed Federico Fellini film “8 ½,” Smith’s character serves as a kind of grand observer and advisor to both egotistical director Guido Contini and the women who seem like stars in his planetary orbit.
Our Lady particularly tries to guide the crisis-confronting director who is suffering a creative block. “It’s sort of a religious figure (Our Lady) but in a positive way,” she explained. “She’s sort of all- seeing and all-knowing. I feel that my presence is helping him. I’m causing him to ask all of the hard questions.”
While the many women around him often seem as uncertain in their own respective ways as Guido, Our Lady seems like an anchor of stability. “One thing I really connect to is that she is one of the more deliberate and calming forces in his life.”
Boston in its own way has been an anchor of opportunity for Smith. Having faced diversity challenges in some cities, Smith “would love it in the future if there were color blind casting all over.”
For her, Boston happily rates high. “In this regard, Boston is a great place to be. Boston is definitely ahead of the curve. I just feel really blessed in Boston.”