Thursday 15 September 2016

Vanities: The Musical - Review

Trafalgar Studios, London


Music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum
Book by Jack Heifner
Directed and choreographed by Racky Plews

Lizzy Connolly, Ashleigh Gray and Lauren Samuels

With Racky Plews' production, and some 40 years after Jack Heifner's play premiered in New York, Vanities in its musical iteration finally crosses the Atlantic to make its London debut.

A three-handler, Kathy, Mary and Joanne are Texan women who we meet as teenage high school cheerleaders on the day of what was to be Kennedy's assassination. Over four acts the musical charts the trio through their college years, adulthood and divergent paths.

In part it's an everywoman story – about dreams that are aspired to, many of which remain unfulfilled as lives play out and compromises are made. And while male fallibility proves a consistent theme, David Kirshenbaum's lyrics explore and test the bonds of female friendship to the best that a man’s perspective can probably offer. Entertaining throughout, even if the story is heavy on the cheese it is the outstanding production values of this modestly staged piece that make it fizz. 

Ashleigh Gray, Lauren Samuels and Lizzy Connolly play the friends, each bringing a perfectly nuanced weight to their very different characters. As one might expect from such a talented line up the performances are flawless, with vocals and close harmonies that are delightful.

Some of the lines are caustically clever. As one of the friends remarks in her older years, she may be a woman who "doesn't know the joy of motherhood" but "does know the relief of abortion". Some of the wit is razor sharp, reminding one perhaps of Stephen Schwartz's song Popular, from Wicked, expanded into an entire show.

The design is classy too with Andrew Riley making clever use of the Studio's compact space. Richard Mawbey's wig work is similarly sensational and the footwear is fabulous. Not just killer dialogue, the killer heels are stunning! Hidden away offstage, Tamara Saringer's 5 piece band are equally sassy. 

Notwithstanding that the show was written by men, this production has a fabulously female feel to it throughout. With Plews’ pinpoint direction and choreography proving sensitive and perceptive throughout. Focussing on the detail, it is the minutest facial expressions that she coaxes from her actors that carry as much of the narrative as their enchanting vocals.

Only on for another couple of weeks, the story may be as tight as its slight, but an exquisite cast makes for an evening of rather gorgeous theatre.

Runs until 1st October
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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