The theatre community paid tribute to Philip J. Smith, who passed away January 15, 2021, with a memorial service at the Music Box Theatre March 22. The event featured remarks and performances by Mr. Smith’s family, friends, and colleagues, including Joe Benincasa, Peter Cincotti, André De Shields, Todd Ellison, Cameron Mackintosh, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Nelle Nugent, Bernadette Peters, Linda Phillips, Jennifer Stein, Ciaran Sheehan, Robert E. Wankel, and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Mr. Smith rose from assistant box office treasurer at the Majestic Theatre in 1957 to becoming chairman and co-CEO of The Shubert Organization in 2008. Mr. Smith retired and became Chairman Emeritus in 2020.
“Phil Smith was a giant of the American theatre and for 63 years, a treasured of the Shubert family,” Wankel said in his opening remarks. “I personally want to acknowledge the tremendous support Phil gave me over the years. I met Phil on my first day of work at Shubert, way back in 1975… In our 45 years together, I don’t think we had one serious disagreement. Phil and I never really finished a conversation. Rather we had one long continuous conversation that lasted all day from the early morning phone calls to the late ones before bedtime. We operated as a team.”
Musical performances included piano performances by Ellison, Peters singing “My Buddy” accompanied by Joseph Thalken on piano, Barnum's “The Colors of My Life” by De Shields with piano accompaniment by Sean Mayes, and a song written and performed by Cincotti titled “The Coat.” The event closed with a performance of the classic Irish tune “Danny Boy” by Ciaran Sheehan, accompanied by Heather Martin Bixler on violin, in honor of Smith’s Irish heritage.
Daughters Jennifer Stein and Linda Phillips shared some of their memories of their father. “Dad’s excitement around booking the next big show, waiting for opening day reviews, and getting the daily box office returns never dissipated, even in his later years,” Stein said. “After meeting him, a friend commented that his life was like a Broadway musical, and with his penchant for spontaneously bursting into song, that wasn’t far off. Whether he was singing 'Come Back Paddy Reilly' or a church hymn at St. Malachy or a favorite Broadway tune, Dad sang heartily and with gusto, the same way he approached life.”
The tribute also featured photos and videos of Mr. Smith’s life, including a rather humorous musical performance by Mr. Smith in the 1990 Actors Fund Benefit. Mr. Smith was remembered for his work in revolutionizing theatre with the computerization and implementation of purchasing tickets with credit cards, his great stories, and his kindness.
In his honor, all Broadway theatres continue the tradition of dimming their lights for one minute ahead of evening performances tonight at 6:30 PM.