The innocent dreams of youth and how they change are the themes of Vanities: A New Musical. Theatre Raleighs fine production boasts three terrific actresses who make the audience care about the characters lives.
Jack Heifners 1976 play Vanities was a long-run Off-Broadway hit. For the 2009 musical revamp, Heifner adapted his script to incorporate David Kirshenbaums songs, adding a new scene to end the musical on a warmer note.
The 105-minute one-act begins in 1963 with primly proper Joanne, pertly organized Kathy and budding sophisticate Mary, senior cheerleaders in a small Texas town high school. Their focus is on being popular, comparing boyfriends and planning football dances. They end up at the same college in the same sorority, but their close bonds unravel as they near graduation. Joannes on track for marriage and kids, but Kathys been thrown off marriage by her longtime boyfriends sudden rejection, and Marys off to Europe to explore culture and men.
A reunion six years later reveals that much has changed, and they fall out. Only Marys mothers funeral brings them together again after many years, effecting reconciliation born of maturity and experience.
Director Lauren Kennedy, who starred in the 2009 New York production, avoids easy cliché, especially in the cheerleader section. She astutely builds an emotional arc that deepens to a richly rewarding finale. Her clever choreography adds knowing reference to the various time periods.
Kate McMillans Joanne, with her blinkered view and heavy drawl, gets most of the laughs and stops the show with her hilarious drunken song and dance at the reunion. Meredith Jones beautifully crafts Marys outwardly liberated attitude while showing the loneliness and dissatisfaction underneath. Morgan Parpans Kathy is wonderfully assured and confident in the beginning and quietly moving as she comes to terms with her disorganized life.
All three have the vocal chops to sell the songs, even those that are merely serviceable. Music director Jay Wright and his six-piece band underpin each number with toe-tapping verve.
Wednesdays opening saw a surprising number of technical glitches in the casts handling of Thomas Mauneys reversible set pieces, and Chris Berniers lighting was uncharacteristically shadowy and harsh. Nothing, however, diminished the enormous appeal of the talented performers in this perfect kickoff for the Hot Summer Nights series 10th season.