By: Paulanne Simmons
April 4, 2023: Vanities, Jack Heifner’s comedy-drama, opened at Playwrights Horizons on January 15, 1976, ran for 13 performances, and then transferred to the Chelsea Theatre where it ran for 1,785 performances. Vanities – the Musical, with book by Heifner, and music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum, premiered off Broadway in 2009.
In 1976 the story about three girlfriends whose lives diverge after high school cheerleading and college sorority life, might have been fresh. In 2009 it might have still been relevant. In 2023 one can’t help but wonder why the musical is being resurrected.
But resurrection has always been an act of faith. And, apparently the people at The York Theatre Company had faith that a somewhat modified version of the musical would find its audience. And so we have a new revival directed by Will Pomerantz. Only time will tell if they were correct.
The three friends are meant to have very different personalities. Joanne (Hayley Podschun) is sweet, one might even say saccharine. She’s also popular and traditional. Her goal is to get married and have children. Kathy (Amy Keum) is organized and proper, but she has little sense of direction. Mary (Jade Jones) is confident, cynical and sophisticated.
All these characteristics can be seen in primal form in the overly long scenes set during their high school and college years. The songs are cute, but the dialogue could have come straight from a young adult novel.
The musical picks up some speed when we see the adult versions of the three friends. Joanne is still upbeat and in love with her husband Ted, formerly her high school sweetheart. Mary runs a gallery that exhibits pornographic art, when she’s not sleeping around. Kathy lives in an expensive Manhattan apartment she does not own and seems to have no more direction in her life than she did when we first met her.
The friends don’t get along nearly as well now. They argue, hurt each other and leave Kathy’s expensive apartment knowing they may never see each other again. It takes a personal misfortune to bring the women together again, which Heifner provides in this new version. Some may find the friends’ feel-good moment satisfying. Others may find it a bit too pat.
The plot and the score of Vanities – the Musical have the same problem. They’re just not that interesting. We never really get to know these women beyond their surface clichés. The score is peppy and hummable. But neither the lyrics nor the music is particularly memorable.
With such flimsy material, the cast doesn’t have much to work with. Sometimes they overact, perhaps in an attempt to make up for the show’s blandness.
There’s much talent onstage, talent searching for a vehicle.
Vanities – the Musical runs through April 22 at The Theatre at St. Jean’s, 150 East 76th Street, between Lexington and Third Avenue.
Photography: Carol Rosegg