This light and bubbly musical is receiving its European premiere at the Trafalgar Studios leaving the audience uplifted and asking: why has it taken so long to reach the stage in Europe?
At its most simple, Vanities is a story of three girls growing up in Dallas and deciding what they want from life as times change during the 1960’s. Seeing them at three very different stages of their lives, the audience watches as each friend takes their own route forward in life – through the good and the bad times.
Directed and choreographed by Racky Plews, the production is perhaps slightly contained and limited in the space that it has been given, yet at the same time it gives the sense of intimacy that is needed to keep the audience and the show focused. Plews has created a gem of a production that is equal parts bubbly and entertaining to sentimentality and utter seriousness that really gets us understanding the characters motives as to why they are the way they are.
We first meet Mary (Lauren Samuels), Kathy (Ashleigh Gray) and Joanne (Lizzy Connolly) in high school, when they are relatively carefree but trying to figure out what they want from life. This opening section brings to mind the film (and musical) Legally Blonde, with its focus on being popular and obsession over looks, particularly during the excitable and fun “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” that is filled with hope and optimism that immediately puts a smile on the audiences face.
From then on we see their lives at several other stages as they move into adulthood and as their ambitions takes them in different directions the occasional tension in their friendship.
All of the performances in this production are absolutely spot on: Lauren Samuels as Mary, dreaming of freedom but gradually becoming increasingly snotty and independent as though trying to protect herself from vulnerability, somehow still manages to make her a likeable character, with the occasional look of vulnerability in her face as she talks about her family gaining the audience’s sympathy. Ashleigh Gray’s character Kathy, exceptionally organised is a personality who perhaps gains the audience’s sympathy the most as she appears to become increasingly unsure of the direction that her life is taking and is sensitively played by Gray.
But it is Lizzy Connolly who draws the biggest laughs as Joanne – who at first comes across as naive and the most vulnerable character actually turns out to be the most levelheaded one out of them all: knowing that she wants to just get married and settle down shows a determined streak that adds solidity to the character. Connolly’s comic timing and delivery (as with them all) is spot on and consistently gets the best lines (too many to even mention) – delivering a brilliant performance.
Jack Heifner’s book is sharp, sensitive, heartwarming and completely relatable as we see each character develop. While the first act might be lighthearted and entertaining, the second act has more drama and even comes across as slightly vicious as Mary tears into her two friend’s lives, leading to a shocking confession that even manages to draw a gasp from the audience that perhaps it is a wonder that the show ends the way that it does.
The music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum also provides excellent balance between the sincere “Cute Boys With Short Haircuts” and the poignant “Friendship Isn’t What it Used to be” to the playful and entertaining “An Organised Life”. It is just the right amount of songs to action that doesn’t overpower the sincerity of the story.
Some might find it too corny for their tastes, but it is worth seeing because of its joyful and uplifting nature that is a real tonic if you have had a bad day at work. Wonderfully sincere entertainment.
Vanities the Musical runs at the Trafalgar Studios until the 1st October. To book tickets visit: ATG Tickets, Ticketmaster.co.uk, Last Minute.com, Discount Theatre.com, Theatre Tickets Direct.co.uk, Love Theatre.com, Theatre People.com and UK Tickets.co.uk.