After her success with American Idiot, director and choreographer Racky Plews returns to the West End with another American musical, Vanities, which receives its European premiere next month at Trafalgar Studios. What attracted her to the project?
There are two things that drew me in to work with the writers Jack, David, and the producers of Vanities: The Musical.
Firstly, I think this score is really something special. Composer David Kirshenbaum has done wonders bringing the sounds of the 1960s and 70s together in this musical theatre score. The show is like a glorious mash-up of Hairspray and Legally Blonde. The music is chock full of delightful harmonies, great hooks, and soaring solos. You’ll be hard pressed to find a catchier new score this season. The American cast recording only gives you half of the score that you’ll be hearing on stage. Even if you know the recording beginning to end, I hope you’ll be as excited as I was to know that there is brand new musical material for this production!
The second thing that drew me in to Vanities was the three characters – Mary, Kathy, and Joanne – whose perfect lives are played out on-stage during this musical. I like to work with difficult characters, those that you love and hate at the same time. In American Idiot, for example, our heroes (or anti-heroes) make questionable and damaging decisions because of their apathy toward the world. In Vanities we see the opposite. Our ladies make questionable and damaging decisions not because they hate the world, but because they don’t know much about it.
Essentially, Vanities is not a musical about three Mensa members. These are girls who are blissfully ignorant to the world around them. They care about looks, boys, clothes, and how they’re perceived by others and they don’t seem to care about much beyond that. However, we can’t blame them for this. Vanities is not just about these three Southern Belles. It’s a critical analysis at how the world has shaped them into the women they are.
Do we blame the girls directly when they don’t have a reaction to finding out President Kennedy has been shot? Or do we turn our focus to an education system that fails these girls over and over again? Over time we do see our heroines grow up and learn better – but, in some cases, is it too late?
Ignoring the underlying politics of the piece for a second, I think these are three wonderful characters. Mary, Kathy, and Joanne may prioritise certain elements of their life, but they aren’t saying or thinking things that we didn’t say or think ourselves. I think it’s so refreshing to see these girls sing about the more trivial things that, for all of us, seemed like a big deal at the time.
When you hear “I Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing“, you can totally relate to all these frivolous aspirations the girls have. “I Can’t Imagine” speaks to many people who nervously move on to college and worry about fitting in to a new social setting. Plus, I can’t remember the last time I heard a more relatable post-breakup song on stage than “Cute Boys with Short Haircuts”. This score does more than highlight the small things in life, it reminds us that everyone had the same fears growing up.
Our loveable characters will be played by the most incredible trio of West End performers on stage together for the first time – you may have seen Lauren Samuels in Grease or Bend It Like Beckham, but you’re about to see a whole new side of her through Mary. Ashleigh Gray‘s incredible voice makes every moment she’s on stage absolutely mesmerising; and there’s no one who can do comedy and charm like Lizzy Connolly. Seeing them all together is just a wonderful experience.
You’re going to love them – I’ll bet my pom-poms!
Vanities: The Musical runs at the West End’s Trafalgar Studios 2 from 1 September to 1 October 2016. Follow @MyTheatreMates on Twitter for details on our competition to win a pair of tickets to the show.