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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 18, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 07
Showing their Vanities
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Showing their Vanities

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Vanities: A New Musical
ACT Theatre
Through May 1


Vanity - noun
1: Excessive pride/admiration of one's own appearance
2: The quality of being worthless or futile
3: A dressing table


The definition of 'vanity' is expressed in every form with the opening of the new musical Vanities at the ACT Theatre. Based on the play by the same name, the musical tells the story of three best friends who are trying to find their ways in the world amongst the turmoil of the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.

On a bare stage sit three empty vanity tables. One by one and without any fanfare, the actresses take their seats, oblivious to the audience. They begin to sing about how we look at ourselves and the changes we go through as we grow. As they put on blue and gold cheerleading outfits, the audience is transported to a small Texas high school gymnasium in 1963, where three best friends (Kathy, Joanne, and Mary) are cheerleaders and the school's most popular girls. Kathy is meticulous, carefully planning each step of her life's journey. Joanne's primary goal is to marry her boyfriend and have a family. Mary yearns for something she's not finding at home with her alcoholic mother. As the girls discuss prom and their boyfriends, an announcement comes over the school's P.A. system: the president has been shot in Dallas. Without realizing it, the seeds of change have been planted.

Returning to their vanity sets, the actresses begin their next transformation into sorority women of 1968. As senior year comes to a close, the three face the world with different aspirations. Joanne continues to focus strictly on her upcoming wedding. Mary embraces the sexual revolution and is anxious to discover what life holds in store. Kathy has diligently followed her lists, organizing the sorority and getting a degree in P.E., but is starting to notice that life isn't happening the way she planned it.

After another visit to their dressing tables, the women take us to a New York penthouse apartment. The summer of 1974 finds Kathy hosting a tea party to reconnect with her friends. Joanne shows up completely submerged in her role as a conservative Connecticut housewife and mother. Mary is dressing chic and living the eccentric life as owner of an erotic art gallery. Despite all her carefully laid plans, Kathy is emotionally lost, stumbling and trying to find her life's pathway. As tea gives into champagne, strains and betrayals surface and all three realize that what they originally hoped for in life is not necessarily what they have at hand.

Each of the three women is given a chance to shine, and all do excellent jobs. Jennifer Sue Johnson (Joanne) is adorable as the ingénue who avoids the world's truths by hiding in the American dream. Ms. Johnson's vocal talents bring out her comic timing in 'The Same Old Music' as her character gets intoxicated at the tea party - she lets her hair down and attempts to reconnect with her friends, trying to avoid confrontations while enjoying her precious few moments free of family responsibilities.

Billie Wildrick (Mary) perfectly embodies her character's desperation to escape from her small town and experience the world. With a beautifully powerful talent, Ms. Wildrick erupts through the song 'Fly Into the Future,' with all the resentments, longings, and sexual provocation that her character is holding down. She exudes Mary's toughness without forgetting to reveal the character's struggle with her own insecurities.

Cayman Ilika (Kathy) shows us her character's 'type A' behavior and determination to get what she wants. Her song 'Cute Boys With Short Haircuts' gives us a glimpse into the beginnings of her character's self-doubt, with a subtle combination of longing for something when there is little interest returned. It's a beautiful song and Ms. Ilika's vocals handle it well, but aside from that she shows us little of the breakdown her character faces, and seems to interchange disillusionment with a certain sense of apathy.

Vanities was originally written by Jack Heifner and first presented off-Broadway from 1976-1980. In 2009, Mr. Heifner successfully converted his script into a musical without losing any of the integrity of the original. While the original ended with the tea party confrontation, Mr. Heifner has added in a final scene for the musical: a reconciliation that isn't necessarily needed, but works for the new collaboration. David Kirshenbaum ('Summer of '42') wrote the music and lyrics that takes the play to a new level. The songs represent the characters' ambitions and desires while continuing the show's storyline. The music lends itself to humming the tunes as you walk out and will linger in your mind afterwards. While re-envisioned for the Seattle premiere, 95% of the music remains the same as the original cast album, released through Ghostlight Records.

To contact Eric Andrews-Katz, e-mail eric@sgn.org.

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