BWW Reviews: VANITIES Has Regional Premiere at Theatre Raleigh
Opening the 2014 season at Theatre Raleigh's Hot Summer Nights is Vanities, a musical which bowed Off-Broadway in 2009. Featuring three talented actresses, a heartfelt story, and interesting music, it's a great kick-off to what promises to be an awesome summer of theater.
Taking place over the better part of a lifetime, Vanities starts in 1963 as it follows three high school best friends through glimpses of time in their lives: planning a pep rally their senior year of high school, choosing new sorority members and planning a wedding their senior year of college, drinking tea and champagne at a get-together several years after college, and reminiscing at a funeral decades later. The three Texas girls, Mary, Joanne, and Kathy, each end up on very different paths as they seek to find their place in the world, with or without each other.
The three ladies, Kate McMillan as Joanne, Meredith Jones as Mary, and Morgan Parpan as Kathy, are all gifted singers and fine actors. While all have their fair share of the spotlight, McMillan really makes every moment count: from her high-energy, crowd-pleasing broad comedy in numbers like "The Same Old Music" to lines of dialogue throughout expertly tossed aside for comedic effect, McMillan shines as Joanne. Though Joanne's character is written to be unlikable at times, it's hard not to love her as McMillan portrays her. This does not, however, diminish the power of the three women together as a mini-ensemble. Their chemistry together is palpable, which makes watching the show all the more delightful for the audience. It's clear that director Lauren Kennedy has a great sense of not only the characters in the show but the three talented actors with whom she works. The women on stage clearly connect with their characters, and truly bring Joanne, Kathy, and Mary to life. With the source material, book, and music written by men, Kennedy brings more than just the proverbial "woman's touch" to the directorial position - she and the actors have clearly worked to bring something authentic to themselves onto the stage, which reflects the woman's experience.
The show's name, Vanities, indicates the furniture around which many women spend plenty of time over the course of their lives. The lyrics to the simple tune which accompanies the ladies at their vanities change over time to reflect the beauty products, brands, and signs of aging which all have their place at the mirror at each time in their lives. The concept of the actual vanities on stage and the characters' return to the vanities to indicate significant passage of time is cute, though not exactly necessary - the story doesn't need the vanities, and they add little more than the opportunity for a few humorous mentions of crow's feet and cold cream, as well as some clumsy scene changes as the large pieces are maneuvered by the cast. The potential for the vanities to deepen the story is great, as these women are seated in front of their vanities during the years when, perhaps more than any other decades in the last century, women re-evaluated their roles in the world, society's perception of beauty, and how the two intertwine. The play itself certainly capitalizes on the time setting to mold characters which have very different relationships with the women's liberation movement (it's one of the most compelling aspects of the show), it's just that the vanities themselves fall flat compared to the heart of the book and music. The sometimes gimmicky vanities of Vanities are its only major drawback.
Overall, the show is an enjoyable one which highlights both the humor and sadness (sometimes at the same time) that come from just going through life. As each woman finds her way in the world, it is without a doubt that audience members from multiple generations will find themselves relating to these women and thoroughly enjoying themselves at the theater.
Vanities runs through May 25. For tickets and more information, visit www.theatreraleigh.com.