By Holli Harms
It is November 22, 1963, in small-town Texas, and three young women, Joanne (Hayley Podschun), Mary (Jade Jones), and Kathy (Amy Keum) are best friends and self-involved high school cheerleaders interested in their popularity.
Vanities – The Musical is blessed with tremendous acting and singing of the three leads, imaginative direction, an amazing four-person band that sounds like a full orchestra, and gorgeous costumes all contributing to what this musical does, entertain the ears and eyes. The songs are lovely and sung with depth, beauty, strength, and confidence. We cheer and applaud the marvelous actors and their brilliant instruments. There is creative and inspiring choreography and a fabulous pure white set with vanities, stools, cushions, and mannequins that visually set the depth of the female struggle on stage. The mannequins wonderfully demonstrate the fact that our three friends are expected to be like mannequins pretty, perfect, silent, and accepting.
All of this production value is working hard to lift the play out of its own restrictive words, but it’s not enough.
It opens with a song about makeup and getting it just right, how to become an attractive woman, because a beautiful woman has power. Looks, and having the positive attitude and energy of a cheerleader you can find that man, that good man, and become a great homemaker and mother, a wonderful perfect subservient creature, a mannequin.
The play moves the three friends from high school to college where each begins to see the world in a different way. From there they move to adulthood and physically drift into marriage and middle age. Along their journey as individuals they each come to the realization that the wants of their teenage selves, the wants based on their small-town societal views of what a woman should be, are not only limiting to themselves but to all women.
Their journey, looking at it from today, and not 1976 when it first premiered doesn’t go far enough to be meaningful. The book and lyrics vaguely brush over the difficulties of what it means to be a woman in this country and the world at this time when online sites continuously show and tell young women how to look, how to do their makeup, how to act, how to be the beautiful, perfect female.
The play addresses these struggles via the surface, but there is no depth to it. It brings up the struggles and setbacks then drops them to quaint pleasantries and songs. Women are bigger than this and we want that bigger on stage. There is the potential for power here.
I did have a moment with tears. I did clap to the wonderful songs. And I did want more.
If beautiful singing and performances are all you wish for then this play will satisfy. Concentrate on the production values, the marvelous performers, the direction and choreography, the scenic design, the costumes, and the musicians, and you will leave full with a theatrical experience.
Suggestion to the male writers of book and lyrics, this play has the potential to move into this century and beyond. Find a female co-writer who can incorporate where we women have come from and where we’re going and a new Vanities, a 21st-century Vanities, can have something to say for today. What an exciting endeavor!
With: Jade Jones, Amy Keum and Hayley Podschun as Joanne. Olivia Kaufmann will stand by for Mary, Joanne, and Kathy.
Creative team: Scenic Design by James Morgan, Costume Design by Barbara Erin Delo, lighting design by Mike Billings, and sound design by Julian Evans, Production Stage Manager is Sean F. Patrick.
Vanities—The Musical will play the following performance schedule: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, & Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. & 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Theater at St Jean’s 150 East 76th Street
For additional information, please visit www.yorktheatre.org.
Running Time: 95 minutes with no intermission
Masks are required.