It’s a bad sign for a musical when you’re listening to the songs waiting on the edge of your seat for the dialogue to return. The engaging story of Vanities centers on the lives and friendship of three women who first become friends as Texas high school cheerleaders in the early 60s. Over time, stretching into the 80s, their friendship is tested, but in the end they discover that they can still rely on each other. It’s based on Jack Heifner’s very popular 1976 dramedy of the same name.
Heifner also wrote the book of this new musical, and it’s his writing—vivaciously acted by Lauren Kennedy, Sarah Stiles and Anneliese van der Pol—that gives this show what charm it possesses. The score by David Kirshenbaum isn’t truly awful, but it is noticeably not up to Heifner’s level of craft.
Musically, it’s pleasant enough, with a handful of moments that “pop.” Kirshenbaum also does a decent job of evoking the pop sounds of the 60s and the 70s—though it’s actually more reminiscent of Stephen Schwartz’s shows of the same period, especially Pippin. Lynne Shankel’s corny orchestrations didn’t do the score any favors, underlining already too-sentimental moments with such clichés as cutesy plunking on the glockenspiel (until I wanted to strangle that otherwise innocent percussionist).
Kirshenbaum also wrote the lyrics here, and he makes me appreciate what a fine lyricist Schwartz is. He also wrote his own lyrics for his previous show Summer of ‘42—I was underwhelmed then and I’m underwhelmed now. Heifner evokes very specific environments in his decade-spanning book, but Kirshenbaum’s lyrics are as general and clichéd as can be.
You won’t have a horrible time at Vanities, but will probably be left with a nagging feeling that it should have been so much better!
For tickets click here.