Tim Smith continues a family legacy of entertainment as director of Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Alegría’
by Donalevan Maines
During his 15 years as a Broadway performer, directing a spectacle such as Cirque du Soleil’s Alegría “was exactly what I had been working towards,” says Tim Smith, the openly gay artistic director of the musical extravaganza that plays November 10–14 at Toyota Center.
“It’s a feast for the senses, from start to finish, and I built an entertainment business résumé to skew myself toward directing, with a performance background,” he explains.
Smith was part of six original Broadway companies, including Grease (dance captain and actor), Annie Get Your Gun starring Bernadette Peters (actor), the Johnny Mercer revue Dream (featured soloist), Aida (associate choreographer), Sweet Charity starring Christina Applegate (Everyman and understudy for Oscar), and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (ensemble).
Since early this year, as on-site director for Alegría, he’s traveled with 97 people, including 55 performers from 17 countries who speak 11 different languages.
“That’s what so amazing, and makes this job unlike any other—to mold these different cultures together and get them to interact,” says Smith.
With only five Americans in the troupe, many cast members hail from countries where the circus is part of their culture, and that discipline has been passed through many generations.
Others were recruited from gymnastic associations or discovered at world championship athletic events.
For example, in the last act, which thrills with daring aerialists on high bars, “All of those guys trained and competed in › uneven bars. Now, they’re doing it 42 feet in the air, and once they let go of the bar, they have to be caught by a person hanging upside down,” says Smith. “It’s classic Cirque du Soleil.”
Smith grew up in Virginia, where his mother and brothers still live. “I was always in theater and the arts, for sure,” he says, “singing, acting, and dancing. My parents were really great to expose us to live entertainment at The Arena in Richmond—the Ringling Brothers, Disney on Ice—and I enjoyed them very much.”
Smith earned a bachelor of science degree in television and radio broadcasting from James Madison University in Virginia. Following his Broadway career, he began “the second part” of his life, developing television and film projects for Sony Pictures Television.
His partner back home in Brooklyn is a lawyer who represents the owners of sports facilities.
Alegría, which means “jubilation” in Spanish, tours for 10 weeks, then takes a two-week break. “When you’re working, you’re working. You are in a capsule separated from the real world. Sometimes it’s hard to go back to that [home] life. We can meet in Paris, or I might want to go home and sit on the couch. This is such a huge opportunity that we think of it as investing in my future.
”We’re going to play Hawaii, so it will be nice to do that on someone else’s dime.”
In his job with Alegría, Smith juggles directing with other duties that seem similar to stage management, sports medicine, and coaching. “We have a medicine department, so if a performer suffers an injury, I’m always in touch with them on the issue and the progress. I then decide [if they can perform that night].”
With its original music, lavish costumes, makeup, and the sheer visual appeal of Alegría, Smith says, “The most exciting thing is that you leave knowing you’ve never seen anything like that.”
What: Cirque du Soleil: Alegría
When: November 10–14
Where: Toyota Center, 1510 Polk
Tickets: ($44–$99) available at toyotacentertix.com or at the Toyota Center box office via phone 866-4HOUTIX (866-446-8849); TDD 1-877-820-0008; and at participating Houston-area Randalls stores.
Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart magazine.