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BWW Reviews: VANITIES: A NEW MUSICAL at ACT

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ACT in conjunction with the 5th Avenue Theatre is presenting the Northwest Premiere of "Vanities: A New Musical".  Featuring three gorgeous and talented Seattle women, I found it difficult to find anything more to make this show stand out.

With a book by Jack Heifner (based on his play of the same name) and songs by David Kirshenbaum, "Vanities: A New Musical" tells the story of three high school friends over a few decades.  There's Kathy (Cayman Ilika), the overly compulsive one always making lists; Joanne (Jennifer Sue Johnson) the conservative one who just wants to have a family; and Mary (Billie Wildrick) the free spirit who wants nothing to tie her down.  And we follow these three women from high school to college and into adult life.  I really can't tell you too much else about the story because there isn't too much else.  But what I can say is that it's been used many times before to the point that it felt cliché.  Furthermore the characters themselves seemed very stereotypical (the Mother, the Planner and the Lover) and we've seen these women so many other times.  In fact while watching the show I kept remembering a song called "Three Friends" from the revue "Closer Than Ever" which was almost the same story except that it told its story in 3 minutes and 22 seconds while "Vanities" took an hour and 40 minutes.  It was just all so very predictable.

 OK, so without a complex story, I at least want some interesting songs.  Well, we had a few.  A few of the solos like "Fly Into The Future" and "The Same Old Music" were nice but not enough to sustain me throughout.  It's not that they were bad songs, just nothing that sold me on the show or moved anything along.  But then since musical songs are supposed to move the plot along and there wasn't much of a plot, I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

OK, so without either of those two elements, what do we have left?  We can only hope for some killer performances.  And here is where we succeed.  Johnson, Ilika and Wildrick are wonderful.  Wildrick is always wonderful in whatever she does.  Her rich voice and equal spirit always shine through.  Johnson was very fun (especially when she started to lose it) and had a great voice to match.  And Ilika, while being a little heavy handed at times, made this difficult character (the most complex of the three) likable and her stunning voice only helped in that regard.

But can three lovely performers make a mediocre show good?  Not for me and not this time it couldn't.  I kept wondering if I wasn't getting into this as much being a guy.  I mean it really is a women's nostalgia piece.  But my female theater companion had exactly the same issues I did, although she did say she found herself reminiscing about her girlfriends from her past.  So maybe the show does work on that level.  But on a strictly musical theater level, it's passable but nothing to rush out for.

"Vanities: A New Musical" performs at ACT's Falls Theatre through May 1st.  For tickets or information you can contact ACT's office at 206-292-7676 or visit them online at www.acttheatre.org or the 5th Avenue Theatre box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.

Photo Credit: Chris Bennion

 


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