Sunday, August 31, 2008

Review - Vanities, A New Musical

Vanities, A New Musical
book by Jack Heifner; music & lyrics by David Kirshenbaum
directed by Judith Ivey
Pasadena Playhouse
through September 28
I have been a fan of Jack Heifner's play Vanities since I first saw it in the 70s in New York with Swoosie Kurtz and Kathy Bates. Part Steel Magnolias, part Designing Women, and making Sex in the City possible, it is an ode to the strength and comraderie of women through the years. This brand new musical version holds up beautifully due to a wonderful ensemble, very humane direction from Judith Ivey - she really keeps the three women grounded - and because...well, gosh, darn it, you just feel good all over as you exit the theatre.
I am not a woman, but I can relate to Mary's desire for freedom from her surroundings, Joanne's naivete and closed-mindedness and Kathy's obsession for organization. I would most like to be Mary, if I could choose, probably because her independence takes her far and makes her more carefree and tolerant and to top it all, she enjoys herself every day of her life. We all need to have more fun, as long as it is not at the expense of others. Lauren Kennedy (Mary), Sarah Stiles (Joanne) and Anneliese van der Pol (Kathy) play their roles to the hilt and have a glowing chemistry. Ivey's direction and Dan Knechtges' musical staging are fluid and fast paced from start to finish, and the music by David Kirshenbaum is buoyant and meaningful. Mary's yearning to "Fly Into the Future", Kathy's disappointment with "Cute Boys with Short Haircuts"and Joanne's attempt to hold on with "The Same Old Music" are wonderfully substantial in expressing each character's emotion.
I graduated from high school in 1964, lived through Kennedy's assassination, moved to New York in the 70s (what an eye opener as compared to small city living) and really found myself identifying with the action onstage. As men and women are equally affected by change, both sexes may find abundant parallels and a sense of humor in the lives of these three typical American galpals.
The vanities (Anna Louizos) change perfectly into lockers and other set pieces. Having the women make their costume changes onstage via song from scene to scene aids fabulously in making the time segments connect rapidly and believably.
As Heifner is quick to point out in the program, the dictionary definitions of 'vanity' all fit the meaning of the show: excessive pride, emptiness or folly and, of course, a dressing table.
Whether we choose to accept it or not, life changes and seeing this musical will certainly make that change, sometimes like a bitter pill, easier to swallow. Take a friend or loved one along; better still, call an old friend later, one that you haven't seen in a long while, find out what he's been up to and wish him well!
5 out of 5 stars


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