Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“The Women” – The Old Globe
“ Dreamgirls ” – San Diego Musical Theatre
AIRDATE: SEPTEMBER 26, 2008
Cat-scratch disease is epidemic on San Diego stages. The claws are out and the fur is flying as furious females go for the well-dressed jugular in “ Dreamgirls ’ and “The Women.” These nightmarish harpies are no dreamgirls . But the shows they appear in are classics.
“The Women” debuted on Broadway in 1936, and three years later, morphed into a backbiting, all-star film. The sardonic story was conceived by Clare Boothe Luce, based on conversations overheard in an upscale powder room. There are no men in Luce’s piercing satire of the morals and mores of the idle rich, though they’re discussed in gory detail. These wealthy wives and divorcées have nothing to do but gossip and dish – oh yes, and steal each other’s mates. Luce was quite a character herself, well acquainted with the Park Avenue set she skewers. But for a society dame, she sure accomplished a lot: journalist, editor, playwright, social activist, congresswoman and ambassador. Her women are astonishingly well dressed, brilliantly witty, and ever-ready with sword-sharp putdowns and repartee. You wouldn’t want any of them for friends; they’re a nasty crew. Still, however acerbic, they’re bitingly funny. And we relish watching them bitch-slap each other, verbally and physically.
Old Globe artistic director Darko Tresnjak loves these luscious old chestnuts, and his production is a knockout. The art deco sets, the stunning wardrobes, and a killer cast of vicious and malicious characters. Except for one, the blissfully happy Mary Haines, who infuriates the rest with her contentedness and happy marriage. So they practically salivate when they learn that her husband is having an affair. Things devolve from there, with the rumor mill setting up shop in the hair salon, spa and dress store, culminating in a Reno divorce mill. As Luce said in the introduction to her play, her “staunchest advocates and best customers [are] women who don’t think ‘all women are like that.’ So, ladies, you can relax and enjoy! Men, of course, will eat it up, though they don’t come out looking too tasty, either.
Same situation in “ Dreamgirls ,” the 1981, Tony Award-winning musical that’s loosely based on the rise and fall and demise of The Supremes. Manipulated by men, forced to turn against each other, these ambitious singers ride the express train to stardom, only to find it’s not so pretty up there in the stratosphere. And everyone wants a piece of you. The Tom Eyen/Henry Krieger show is getting a magnificent production that crowns the first season of the impressive new San Diego Musical Theatre. Wow. The voices are electrifying. The 14-piece band is superb. The staging and choreography are stylized, evocative and sexy. This is one roof-rattling musical you have got to see.
Two great date-shows. Catty women – and the guys’ll go ape!
“ Dreamgirls ” runs through September 28, at the Lyceum Space in Horton Plaza .
“The Women” continues through October 26 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park .
©2008 PAT LAUNER