Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: AUGUST 7, 2009
A musical from a movie? – What a concept! Well, some of these efforts have gone on to fame and glory – from “Beauty and the Beast” to “Hairspray” to “Billy Elliot.” But sometimes, the musical doesn’t add much to the original, especially if the source material is kind of weak to begin with.
That’s the case with the world premiere of “The First Wives Club” at the Old Globe. Sure, the story of jilted women’s revenge is sweet for some ex-wives, left behind by slimy, middle-aged mates seeking newer, sleeker arm-candy. But despite the huge talent involved in the 1996 film – Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler and Diane Keaton – there wasn’t all that much there there . You just had to go along for the gleefully wicked ride.
Same for the new, Broadway-bound musical. It’s perky and energetic, but it contributes little to the storyline or the genre. The music and dancing feel decidedly derivative. The score, written by the legendary Motown team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, who spun gold with hits for the Supremes, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, and The Miracles – suggests that they’re not quite comfortable in the realm of musical theater. What they’ve produced is an assemblage of anthemic solos and a few novelty numbers that would feel right at home in a cabaret concert. And there are so many primary characters — the central three, as well as their suicidal friend, their scummy husbands with sexy new paramours, the flamboyant gay decorator, the lesbian daughter; it seems that everyone has to get a musical moment in the spotlight.
There are two snappy chorus numbers – “The Auction” and “Jump for Joy” – but no real show-stoppers. The first act is almost all exposition, but we still don’t get under the skin of the three main characters – the perpetually apologizing WASP, the wisecracking Jewish suburbanite and the fabulously wealthy black singer. They’re played more for glib, glossy comedy than for heart or emotion; we never get a genuine sense of the real pain of their being dumped, discarded and rendered obsolete. We don’t really come to care about them, which makes the whole effort feel fairly superficial. There’s more than a whiff of caricature, cliché and stereotype in Rupert Holmes’ book, which remains pretty close to the film and the 1992 Olivia Goldsmith novel that inspired it.
So there’s definitely a lot of work to be done before the show is ready for Broadway. But not on the set and lighting, which are absolutely stunning. The costumes are pretty cool, too. But overall, this feels like contrived, mainstream, frivolous fare. Chick-lit with songs, geared for women of a certain knowing age. If that’s your cup of musical bile, grab your gal-pals and go.
“The First Wives Club” runs through August 30 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park .
©2009 PAT LAUNER