Sisterhood is a powerful and powerfully funny thing in the Pre-Broadway tryout of THE FIRST WIVES CLUB, running through March 29 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph.

This will probably come as no surprise to fans of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, the creator of "Designing Women," "Evening Shade," and other classic sitcoms. She was charged with adapting the 1996 cult comedy film of the same name (itself based on the 1992 best selling novel by Olivia Goldsmith). It would be an understatement to say Bloodworth-Thomason knows a thing or two about writing real, relatable and funny roles for women. Her book for the musical has a heart and charm; if women need an excuse to go see live theater, this has "ladies' night" written all over it.

At the comedic helm is Tony-award winning Faith Prince as Brenda Cushman. It's a comedic triumph for Prince; her Brenda has just the right amount self-depricating humor, anger and heart. She is particularly effective in a scene where Brenda has to force an "I love you, too" out of her teenaged son. It isn't just out of a sense of motherly need; her character is at rock bottom. Her appliance store-owning husband has traded her for a new model and her son's love is something she is desperately clinging to in an effort to keep it together.

Jeff Award-winner Christine Sherrill, who showed off her comedic chops in "Legally Blonde" a few seasons ago, plays pop singer Elise Acton. Like her college friend Brenda, Elise has been replaced by an up-and-coming country music star (Alison Woods). Elise has desperately tried to remain current and desirable --having undergone a nip and tuck here and there (a joke about how Elise eats soup with her overly-inflated lips is delivered with particularly physical comdy by Sherrill).

Rounding out the trio is Broadway's Carmen Cusack as Annie Walker. Annie's reserved nature in the bedroom has driven her husband into the arms of a more adventurous woman. You empathize when she finally snaps.

Much like the book and film, the trio manage to pick each other up and forge a plan to get back at each of their ex-husbands. The revenge plot is the least-developed aspect of the book. We know they are plotting revenge and see the revenge in process, but some of the details need to be fleshed out a bit more clearly if the show is to find an audience on Broadway.

The music and lyrics by Motown legens Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, feature several show-stoppers for the leads to belt out (and all three actresses have previously proven they can deliver knock outs and they do so again here). Highlights include Brenda's "My Heart Wants to Try One More Time," Annie's "Whirlpool of Emotions" and Elise's "Old Me, New Me." Cusack and Prince unfortunately each have a reprise of the latter after Sherrill has just delivered a powerhouse performance and squeezed every possible emotion from song and lyric that their reprises are so understated to the extent that one questions their necessity.

In the end, the show serves as a reminder of the importance of the bonds of friendship. Lovers may come and go, but it's the friends there to celebrate your highs and lows that really make life worth living.

THE FIRST WIVES CLUB runs through March 29 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph. Tickets, $33-$100. Call 800-775-2000.

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From This Author Misha Davenport

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