I feel David Kirshenbaum’s Vanities is certainly going to split the critics. Those who adore the gleeful, cheesy musicality of Hairspray, Wicked and Legally Blonde will definitely shake their pom-poms that this London debut beams with girly chick-flick charm, and is performed by talented trio Lauren Samuels (Mary), Ashleigh Gray (Kathy) and Lizzy Connolly (Joanne).
We’re in 1960s Dallas, in the locker-room of what could be Rydell High. The three BFFs discuss their latest cheer routines, going all-the-way with boys and a superficial future, where they may find themselves… unpopular! They want the ‘American Dream’ to grow old with ideal husbands, glowing careers and a head full of hairspray and face covered in Chanel. But most importantly – together.
Based on Jack Heifner’s book, we explore the lives of these girls as they grow from high school to sororities to wives and business woman. It’s largely a tale of friendship, of growing together and growing apart but that glue that ultimately binds them.
There’s an innocence of youth wonderfully played by the three gals that’s endearing and heart warmingly funny. Particularly from Lizzy Connolly’s laugh-out-loud humour with her melodramatic comments that are completely deadpan and brilliantly witty. She is perfectly matched by Ashleigh Gray’s Kathy, hugely organised and the most rational of the trio, continuously designing an array of chicken-wired centrepieces of coloured Kleenex . Then there is Lauren Samuels – Mary’s dreams are bigger with her sights set on Europe and building a life of independence away from Texas. Their characters are perfectly written, hugely loveable and each bringing their own personalities and aspirations to the table.
But what truly has you beaming from your seat is Racky Plews superb direction and choreography. She makes excellent use of the intimate staging at Trafalgar Studios and the routines never feel compromised due to lack of space. Further nods must go to Andrew Riley’s candy-hued set that beautifully transcends you to 1960s America – with fabulous wigs to boot.
Ok, so the songs are little cheesy but as the troop grow, the songs mature too ‘Friendship Isn’t What It Used To Be’ had a wonderful ballad tone and expertly sung. The songs are gorgeously catchy with infectious melodies, however ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ and ‘Cute Boys With Short Haircuts’ were absolute favourites and I shimmied all the way home.
Vanities is an evening of sheer cheery, lighted fun. It’s heartfelt and I certainly left with huge smile as it provides the perfect tonic to any grumps. There may be nods to the Supremes or Shirelles but most definitely this production fizzes with girl power.
(Photo courtesy of Pamela Raith)