Review of Vanities the Musical at Trafalgar Studios 2
While the autumn promises the West End bows for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest School of Rock, direct from Broadway as well as the belated U.K premiere for Dreamgirls, there are smaller-scale outings for a whole slew of off-Broadway musicals between now and January, including The Adding Machine, Murder Ballad, Lazarus and Death Takes a Holiday (respectively at the Finborough, Arts Theatre, King’s Cross Theatre and Charing Cross Theatre.
But the first American-originated show out of the starters' gate is Vanities, a modest cabaret musical that premiered in California in 2008 and before an off-Broadway run in 2009. Somewhat bizarrely, it once had its sights set on Broadway itself, where it might have looked brutally exposed. As it is, even in the very intimate confines of the Trafalgar Studios tiny Studio 2, and even in a physically very handsome production directed by Racky Plews, it feels simultaneously thin and heavy handed.
Not much at all happens in the first act of the show, based on a long-running 1976 Off-Broadway play of the same name by Jack Heifner, where we meet three young women, first as teenager best friends and cheerleaders at school, then graduating from university. In the second act, they are adults, pursuing their own variously disappointed love lives and putting their career choices on the line. (One of them trades, a bit incongruously, in pornographic art). This has more of a dramatic spark, but isn't exactly believable.
Instead, the real pleasure -- and there is some -- comes from a series of terrific original songs by composer David Kirshenbaum that are sure to have a future life in cabarets, and a trio of really engaging and gloriously well-sung performances from Lauren Samuels, Lizzy Connolly and Ashleigh Gray.