Saturday, August 01, 2009

Vanities, A New Musical

"Vanities, A New Musical" at Second Stage Theatre, July 31, 2009

Sometimes, it's a great idea to turn a really good play into a musical. Think "Mame" or "My Fair Lady" for example.

Then, there's the musicalization of "Vanities" with the book by Jack Heifner, the original playwright. By adding a fourth vignette to the story, he sets the piece as a memory play. For me, this made for an awkward opening as the three women enter as adults then start changing clothes in the middle of the opening number, reverting to high school. (Spoiler alert)

From that point to the end of the third scene, Mr. Heifner stays true to the original concept. The new ending brings a contrived tidiness to wrap up the show with the three friends walking off together into the sunset (literally).

Anneliese Van Der Pol's Kathy gets stuck with the heavy lifting of telling the story, without revealing much of herself. Kathy goes from head cheerleader, to sorority leader, to mysteriously living in a "friend's" NYC penthouse with no apparent means of support. Other than seeing she can't really find a purpose in her life, Mr. Heifner never really tells us why she's lost her way. She's a strong singer who could have used better songs.

Lauren Kennedy's Mary doesn't quite hit the mark and feels miscast. Her arc from flippant to bitchy is more annoying than interesting. It's too bad she didn't take better advantage of her slightly better drawn character.

Sarah Stiles is most successful as the prim Joanne. It isn't until the third scene that she really shines. It's a big funny number and about the only one that really adds to the show.

Musically, the generic score and greeting card lyrics by David Kirshenbaum don't do what they should in a musical - either expand a moment, or further the plot.

Kudos to Anna Louizos for the elaborate sets and Joseph G. Aulisi's costumes, carrying us from 1963 to 1980 (or thereabout).

Director Judith Ivey seems to have done as much as she can to overcome the weaknesses in the cast and material, keeping things apace for the 100 minute, intermissionless production. I can't help but wonder what might have been different had this production made it to Broadway as originally intended. Second Stage has had good luck with transfers ("Little Dog Laughed" "Metapmorphoses"), but I don't think this will be another one for them.

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