★★★★ | Vanities: The Musical
Imagine an afternoon Channel 5 film full of ‘women’s issues’. Or one of those novels that you take on holiday, read, instantly forget and then leave in the hotel room when it’s over. Syrupy sweet and wholesome but emotionally stirring on some levels. Predictable yet mildly intriguing and easy to digest but enjoyable nonetheless. That’s “Vanities” in summary. Oh, I almost forgot to mention: it’s also tremendous fun.
The story follows the friendship between three women through being High School cheerleaders in 1963 (yes, it’s American. Very American), living together in a sorority house at university in Dallas, reuniting in their late twenties in New York and finally meeting again as they are hitting 40 back in Texas. Joanne is traditional and wants to be a wife and mother, Kathy is driven and organised and wants a career as a sports teacher and Mary just wants adventure (a.k.a. sex and travel). There we have it in three handy female stereotypes: earth mother, career woman and bitch/whore. Naturally. There’s infidelity, hurt, alcoholism and nervous breakdowns plus the odd abortion, betrayal and blazing row. It’s soapy, light and watchable.
There are, however, various qualities that elevate Vanities above this form. Firstly, the songs: they’re almost a parody, aping the girl groups of the 60s and 70s with tones of Bacharach, The Supremes and The Shangri-Las. Kirschenbaum’s lyrics are witty and amusing and although they’re not the most memorable riffs, they’re easy to listen to, raise a smile and work well in the context. Racky Plews’ choreography echoes the styling of the music and there are some moves worthy of a lip-syncing runner-up in RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Secondly: the cast. Lizzy Connolly, Ashleigh Gray (a previous Elpheba in the Wicked U.K. tour) and the lovely Lauren Samuels (who was award nominated for ‘Bend It Like Beckham’) are all equally strong and carry the show with ease.
Thirdly, the staging: the tiny space of Trafalgar Studios 2 is transformed into a shifting, overtly feminine space full of the cluttered paraphernalia of girlhood. The show works well at such close quarters, given the minuscule cast and scrutinised emotion.
A 2009 sickly saccharine musical that was based on a 1974 Broadway comedy and that has never managed to hit this side of the pond? It may not sound like the best proposition for a good night out. Sit back, relax and this hollering, dancing all female group will show you just how wrong that assumption would be. Just don’t take your straight male friends. I’m not entirely sure that they’re going to ‘get’ this one. School of Rock or Groundhog Day, anyone?
Vanities: The Musical plays at the Trafalgar Studios until 1st October 2016
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Chris is a theatre and book obsessed Midlander who escaped to London. He’s usually to be found slumped in a seat in a darkened auditorium.