Saturday, August 1, 2009

review - The First Wives Club @ Old Globe in San Diego

The First Wives Club
a new musical
book by Rupert Holmes;
music & lyrics by
Holland, Dozier, Holland
directed by Francesca Zambello
Old Globe Theatre, San Diego
Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
through August 23

From film to musical stage: though hardly original, it seems to be the steadiest solution to filling the large theaters of The Great White Way. 10 years ago the Old Globe hosted the musicalization of The Full Monty, which translated quite appealingly to the stage...and now so does the new effort from Rupert Holmes and Holland, Dozier, Holland: The First Wives Club, so popular with movie audiences in 1996. There's something about a good movie script: when it's that good (this one by Robert Harling), the storytelling will translate well to just about any medium. Wives Club's a mix of comedy and drama, high on sex appeal, laughs ...and even has its little message of substance, with people trying to make a difference in their lives. Look how the factory boys of The Full Monty made a drastic change in their work habits and what fun they had; well, the gals of The First Wives Club will strut their stuff, championing their cause for equality and independence and win just as many hearts along the way.
Audiences relate well to middle-class crises. If men lose their jobs, we feel sympathy; if husbands dump their wives for younger women, we turn our attention deservedly to the mature women. So when Brenda (Barbara Walsh), Annie (Karen Ziemba) and Elyse (Sheryl Lee Ralph) unite against their husbands to get back their dignity and pride, we really don't care if they fight fire with fire and cheat, connive and deceive them - this is revenge, baby! The ladies are all top-notch and belt out their numbers with the best of them: Walsh ("My Heart Wants To Try One More Time"), Ziemba ("Have Your Way with Me") and Ralph ("That Was Me Then, This Is Me Now"). The pop rock score by H-D-H is fun and uplifting. There's no tune here of the calibre of their past hits like "Baby Love" or "Baby I Need Your Loving". You don't leave the theatre humming the tunes, but they all work well within the context of the play, moving the plot forward and adding distinctive feelings.
The auction number ("Payback the Bitch!") is a delight, with special nod to choreographer Lisa Stevens for some of the brightest and snappiest moments in the show.
The supporting cast are all dyn-o-mite. Sam Harris is a flambuoyant stand out as designer Duane; Brad Oscar is a mensch as the straying Morty; John Dossett is stunning (especially in leather - see the top photo!) and Kevyn Morrow, with his hightoned body and superior ego to match, rounds out the distasteful entry-level hubbie trio to perfection. Sara Chase is sheer delight in three roles, especially notable as the dumb Shelley and a vocal knockout as Feebee.
Peter J. Davison's scenic design with its glass panels and New York skyline is a stunner, as are Mark McCullough's lighting design and Paul Tazewell's dazzling costumes, notably those flashy furs and leopard outfit for Ralph and the all-white finale.
Zambello's fast-paced direction keeps the action on course without ever missing a beat.
This is a very entertaining evening of theatre. Very slick in production values, Wives Club's engrossing story of characters that change from superficial to caring, adapted here by Rupert Holmes, meaningful score by H-D-H and gleaming performances from the entire ensemble make it a must-see. You will "Jump for Joy"!
Go, go, go!!!
5 out of 5 stars


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