By Donna Herman
This One’s For The Girls by Dorothy Marcic at St. Luke’s Theater, should be titled This One’s For The Money. A musical review of “women’s popular music” in this country from the 1920’s through the current times, it boasts a host of memorable music, impressive talent, and lazy insight, scholarship and politics. It will appeal to those who came of age in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s, and can ignore the between the songs patter, the most.
The loose conceit of the piece is that Janet (Jana Robbins), the middle-aged narrator of the piece (and widowed mother of 3), is throwing a party for the launch of her book. In walks Jason, who recently dumped her, with a young girlfriend, and introduces Janet to her as a professor-friend. Cue “I Fall To Pieces.” The distraught Janet decides that if she can figure out her favorite songs through her life, she will be able to figure out how she got to where she is and fix her life.
“I looked at each one of the 2,401 Top-40 songs that women sang since 1900 and that’s when it saw it, right there. Popular music tells the story of women… And I discovered my life was laid out in those songs. And if I could make sense of this music, maybe I could understand my own journey… I did what any respected academic would do, I wrote a book….I started talking to women. Across the country and around the world. Old women. Young women…What songs were part of their journey and touched their lives? Which tunes helped them through sorrow and become stronger? This is their story and mine.”
Aside from Janet, there are three other women on stage, Eden (Traci Bair), Rosa (Aneesa Folds), and Samantha (Haley Swindal), who cover the gamut of young, more mature, and black of all ages. As they start singing songs, beginning with “My Man” made popular by Barbra Streisand in 1968 and ending with the Alicia Keyes 2012 hit “Girl on Fire,” it is indeed clear that women have come a long way. And there is a wealth of vocal power on stage that, had the connecting bits given them any help at all, would have had the audience stomping and screaming. The vocal arrangements are gorgeous and their voices blend beautifully. The individual voices are powerful and dynamic and the songs are performed with finesse and emotion.
The big miss here is equating the role of women in society through music as anything but a reflection of how they were viewed and treated by MEN. A couple of hours of research turned up the fact that of the 44 discreet songs in This One’s For The Money, only one was written solely by a woman. And no, it isn’t the Alicia Keyes! It’s Janis Ian’s 1975 song “At Seventeen.” There are 5 other songs out of the 44 that have women listed as co-writers.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the earliest song credited with a woman as a songwriter, is the 1941 blues hit by Billie Holiday “God Bless the Child.” Which she co-wrote with Arthur Herzog, Jr. after an argument over money with her mother. The others are the 1968 Tammy Wynette hit “Stand By Your Man,” for which she and Billy Sherrill are credited as co-writers. Helen Reddy’s anthemic 1971 “I Am Woman” was a conscious creation by her and Ray Burton to reflect the changing role of women in society. “The Greatest Love of All” with music by Michael Masser and lyrics by Linda Creed was actually first recorded by George Benson before becoming a #1 hit for Whitney Houston. The final two are, “Brave” by Sara Bareilles & Jack Antanoff in 2013 and of course, “Girl on Fire” the 2012 hit by Alicia Keyes, Jeff Bhasker, Salaam Remi & Billy Squier.
I could almost not have gotten on my soapbox and preached about this. But towards the end of Janet’s “journey” in This One’s For The Girls, after she’s seen the light and talks about how strong she is now, she says “…we were coming out of denial. And stopped waiting for Prince Charming to rescue us. From what? From ourselves, I suppose.” This is victim blaming at its finest. As if women were authoring, singing, recording, distributing, and promoting songs about ourselves that kept us barefoot and pregnant and subservient to men.
I really cannot believe that Dorothy Marcic, a woman with three masters degrees and a doctorate, a Columbia University professor, the author of 15 books, a playwright with 3 plays under her belt, and alive in this day and age could have written that line. She could have written a groundbreaking piece with the same songs that talked about what was really going on in the lives of the women who were singing them.
Like the fact that Tammy Wynette whose career was associated with “Stand By Your Man” – the subject of which was suggested by her male producer Billy Sherrill, was divorced 5 times and was the suspected victim of domestic violence. Or that Lesley Gore, whose 1963 hit “You Don’t Own Me” is featured in the show, knew that she was a lesbian by 1966. Beginning in 2004, Gore hosted the PBS television series “In the Life,” which focused on LGBT issues. At the time of her death in 2015, Gore had a 33-year-old relationship with her partner, luxury jewelry designer Lois Sasson.
Looking at their music from the perspective of their personal lives and how they dealt with the disparity, would have been a truly moving and informative piece of art. And a real tribute to those fine women artists. As it is, it kind of feels like exploitation, and an attempt at making a fast buck.
This One’s For The Girls By Dorothy Marcic, Directed By Tamara Kangas Erickson
WITH: Jana Robbins (Janet); Haley Swindal (Samantha); Traci Bair (Eden); Aneesa Folds (Rosa); Erin Cronican (Standby)
Music Director, Additional Vocal Arrangements, Additional Orchestrations By Zachary Ryan; Set & Lighting Design By Josh Iacovelli; Costume Design By Cynthia Nordstrom; Press Representative, Jim Randolph; Marketing By Leanne Schanzer Promotions; Casting Director, Jamibeth Margolis, CSA; General Manager, Bernard L. Tansey; Production Stage Manager, Robert Levinstein; Asst. Stage Manager, Sandra Trullinger; Company Manager, Georgiana Mitroi; Executive Producer, William Franzblau. Presented at St. Luke;s Theatre, 308 West 46th Street. Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm. For tickets visit: https://www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/This-Ones-for-the-Girls