“All relationships rearrange”
In some ways, you can see why Vanities: the Musical has taken its time to make its way over the ocean since its 2008 premiere. Based on a 1976 play by Jack Heifner which follows the friendship of three young women from Texas over ten years – and for its time, a daring look at the changing role of women in society – Heifner’s book for the musical extends the story to a fourth act and by at least another decade, but it is unevenly plotted and rather superficial.
The beauty of Racky Plews’ production for Aria Entertainment though is that it takes all of this in its stride and in some pitch-perfect casting in the form of Lizzy Connolly, Ashleigh Gray and Lauren Samuels, imbues the material with a real sense of heart. So as Joanne, Kathy and Mary move from high school to college, to the personal and professional lives that they dreamed of and by which they are taken by surprise, we’re totally drawn in by their performances.
Connolly’s wannabe Southern belle Joanne is a comic delight as she drawls through a raft of cracking one-liners, Gray’s control freak Kathy feels like the emotional heart of the show as the one who seems to be sideswiped most by the reality of life, and Samuels’ free-spirit-in-the-making Mary transforms remarkably in the liberation of the 70s. And all three exhibit a supreme vocal confidence which makes a virtue of the intimacy of the Trafalgar Studios’ intimate second space.
David Kirshenbaum’s music and lyrics have an appealingly fresh quality, though they could usefully echo a little more period influence, but they offer several stand-out opportunities for the trio, not least Gray’s ‘Cute Boys With Short Haircuts’ and Connolly’s ‘The Same Old Music’. Tamara Saringer’s musical direction fits perfectly into this space, as does Andrew Riley’s memento-filled design which adroitly allows for the accumulation of stuff that life always brings, and a reminder of the lifelong friendships that Vanities celebrates, even as they fluctuate over the years.