Theater review: 'Vanities: A New Musical'

CorrespondentMay 15, 2014 

  • Details

    What: “Vanities, A New Musical” presented by Theatre Raleigh

    Where: Kennedy Theatre, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh

    When: 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and May 21-24; 2 p.m. Saturday and May 24; 3 p.m. May 18 and 25.

    Tickets: $25-$27

    Info: 919-480-5166 or theatreraleigh.com

The innocent dreams of youth and how they change are the themes of “Vanities: A New Musical.” Theatre Raleigh’s fine production boasts three terrific actresses who make the audience care about the characters’ lives.

Jack Heifner’s 1976 play “Vanities” was a long-run Off-Broadway hit. For the 2009 musical revamp, Heifner adapted his script to incorporate David Kirshenbaum’s 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. Joanne’s on track for marriage and kids, but Kathy’s been thrown off marriage by her longtime boyfriend’s sudden rejection, and Mary’s off to Europe to explore culture and men.

A reunion six years later reveals that much has changed, and they fall out. Only Mary’s mother’s 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 McMillan’s 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 Mary’s outwardly liberated attitude while showing the loneliness and dissatisfaction underneath. Morgan Parpan’s 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.

Wednesday’s opening saw a surprising number of technical glitches in the cast’s handling of Thomas Mauney’s reversible set pieces, and Chris Bernier’s 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.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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