Some reviews are much more difficult to write than others. If a show is sensational, that’s easy. If it’s a bomb that’s even easier. But when a show falls somewhere in the middle between sensational and bomb – like Vanities, a new musical, now playing at 2econd Stage Theatre – it’s much more difficult.
A “new” musical based on an “old” play, by Jack Heifner also called Vanities. A huge Off-Broadway hit in 1976, running for five years. One would imagine that Mr. Heifner would be very happy with that accomplishment. But he had David Kirshenbaum add some nifty tunes and lyrics that he has made room for in his play and we now have a very pleasant show about three women – best friends in high school – cheerleaders, in fact who all share the same desires about being popular and living the American Dream. Of course they go about it in different ways.
The best aspect of Vanities, the musical is that we get to see three extremely talented actresses portraying best friends Mary (Lauren Kennedy) the liberated, Joanne (Sarah Stiles) the traditionalist and Kathy (Anneliese Van Der Pol) the planner. These three should be nominated as one as were the three Billy’s in Billy Elliot for an Obie Award – they are that good. Without them, I’m afraid the show would falter even with the fine direction by Judith Ivy.
Things start off in Texas 1963 where they are in high school. Then five years later they are sorority sisters. Six summers hence we find them having a reunion in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan. Then, years later, back in Texas. All this is done with a very clever set by Anna Louizos (who never disappoints with her designs) that enables our three heroines to change styles on stage depicting the years flying by.
Some of the tunes by David Kirshenbaum are really good. It’s hard though to identify them as they the songs are not listed in the Playbill. Why? My favorite is the “can’t-get- this-tune-out-of-my-head” song that Joanne sings – could it be called “Same Old Music”? Whatever it’s called, it’s wonderful. But the rest of the very pleasant score, nicely arranged by Bryan Perri and Lynne Shankel doesn’t really define character or the changing times.
As good as the girls are I was hoping for another character to intervene. One does late in the show. It’s the corpse of Mary’s mother. Be careful what you wish for. In any event, Vanities – a very pleasant little musical now with three phenomenal performances by the gifted Lauren Kennedy, Sarah Stiles and Anneliese Van Der Pol – is closing in two weeks. Final performance is August 9th. I urge you to see these three outstanding women and wish them better opportunities in the near future to strut their stuff in a big fat Broadway hit.