Five questions for David Hanbury, a.k.a. Mrs. Smith

Freshly traumatized from her appearance on “America’s Got Talent!” Mrs. Smith is back with an evening of story and song about the heart-stopping highs and perilous lows of fame, fortune and superstardom.

Mrs. Smith is the alter-ego of David Hanbury. I asked Hanbury to answer a few questions about Mrs. Smith, and to give a window into the life of a theater queen.

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David Hanbury as Mrs. Smith, along with Broadway boys Tony Milder and Rick Latterell

Photo: Dan Norman

1. Tell me about Mrs. Smith – who is she?

Mrs. Smith is a well-to-do lady of a certain age who’s more than a little kooky. Audiences report an uncanny feeling of familiarity when they first see her; it’s very likely you have an eccentric aunt that’s a lot like her. Her cat Carlyle has been missing for three and a half years and her main quest is to be reunited with him. She is the kind of woman who is enamored with psychoanalysis, New Age therapies, psychics and the rest. Most surreal is her ability to “shred” on electric guitar. This is not a theatrical illusion, I really play guitar live so when you see Smithy two handed tapping like Edward Van Halen it’s REAL!

2. What inspired you to create her?

I fell in with a crew of Charles Ludlam’esque theater queens in Provincetown, Massachusetts a few years ago lead by a brilliant artist named Ryan Landry. I was a young character actor at the time, waiting to mature into character acting but Ryan saw a crazy old lady deep inside me, somehow. He was the first to put me in a grey wig and I played all kinds of Schoolmarms, nosey neighbors and whatnot in comedies. Then one night at a variety show I did an improvised bit as this character named Mrs. Smith, a depressed woman searching for her missing cat. The audience loved her.

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David Hanbury

Photo courtesy the artist

3. What’s the appeal of being a female impersonator? Put differently, what do you get out of inhabiting the character of Mrs. Smith?

I don’t consider what I do “female impersonation,” that’s actually a very specific genre of club performance that has to do with drag artists impersonating celebrities. At it’s best, female impersonation creates incredibly convincing illusions wherein the artist transforms himself into Marilyn Monroe, Cher, or Madonna, etc. The most amazing part of female impersonating is the fact that one performer will usually switch into a dozen different celebrities within the course of a single performance, it’s a quick change miracle what these guys do.

I see what I do as being more within the realm of theater, specifically what’s come to be known these days as “club theater.” It’s part cabaret, part character acting, and part improv comedy. I sing live, play guitar live, and perform scripted sequences so it’s sort of like a play where the main character is likely to burst out of the narrative to interact with the audience.

I keep returning to Mrs. Smith because she keeps demanding that I tell her stories. She can be placed in an endless array of contexts and always have a fresh take on them. As an actor I love performing all kinds of roles but with Smith I can perform, write, sing, play guitar and interact with an audience. Its a thrill. I’m so grateful she chose me as her vessel!!

4. Who are your inspirations/influences? What is it about them that you admire?

I would say Charles Ludlam, PeeWee Herman, Lily Tomlin, Tracey Ullman, Jennifer Saunders, Monty Python. These were all artists that captivated me all the way from when I was a kid to present day. I suppose what they all have in common is an element of comedic physicality and audacity, whether you’re talking about Jennifer Saunders doing a prat fall into an open grave on Ab Fab or Lily Tomlin re-shaping her body and voice to become a different human being.

5. Why should someone who has never been to one of your shows give it a try?

I think it combines a lot of unexpected elements of live performance in a way that’s surprising and lots of fun. There’s comedy with a little dash of pathos and some heart thrown in as well. There’s live music performed with a sense of abandon. There’s an interactive element as well (but not the stupid, annoying, or boring kind of interactivity). There are hard-scripted sequences that have been rehearsed a great deal but she is constantly popping out of the story and commenting in ways that surprise even me. At the end of a Mrs. Smith show audiences consistently report feeling as if they have seen something that can never be repeated. It’s a lot of fun!

Mrs. Smith Live at the Bryant Lake Bowl runs tonight through May 26.

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