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Review: Vanities The Musical At Trafalgar Studios

Vanities: The Musical at Trafalgar Studios 2 chronicles the life-affirming journey of three vivacious Texas teens from cheerleaders to sorority sisters to housewives, liberated women and beyond. This musical captures a snapshot-sharp portrait of the lives, loves, disappointments and dreams of these young women growing up during the turbulent ‘60s and ‘70s and reconnecting in the late 1980s

In theory I am not a musicals person, I like a song, I like a good story but for me so few productions get the combination just right. Vanities, based on 1976 play, is an exception to the rule. Characters you can relate to, a fantastic musical score and three wonderful actresses in the starring roles.

Vanities follows three friends, Kathy (Ashleigh Gray), Joanna (Lizzy Connolly) and Mary (Lauren Samuels) from high school to adulthood in 1960s America as they grow from focusing on their looks and popularity to looking at their futures (and pasts). In its London debut this off-Broadway production feels like it should be a classic. There is a strong original score by David Kirshenbaum with songs that are catchy and upbeat such as I Can’t Imagine and desperately heartfelt, even an emotional husk like me found Cute Boys with Short Haircuts emotionally draining.

The real key to why this will become a classic are the three actresses, despite its two-hour running time you really feel as if you grow with these women throughout the decades. The performances so subtle you will be thinking about how all the scenes link and how all the clues were there. I cannot focus on one performer. All three actresses have stunning voices and have comic as well as dramatic timing. Samuels’ transformation as the outgoing Mary throughout the years is stunning, Gray as organised and serious Kathy has the role that resonated most with me and Connolly as ditzy Joanne is hilarious but the performances (both musical and acting) have so many dimensions that it feels wrong to even begin to assign personalities that sound one dimensional! The enjoyment comes from the fact that is so wonderfully cast, I can believe these ladies are friends, I can believe they will grow apart. As productions go this is as close to flawless as you can get.  The book creates such diverse characters that it is still relevant in 2016 and I hope those familiar with the original play aren’t thrown by the changes the musical version makes.

It is ultimately a story about friendship and development, all the characters go on a journey and you are rooting for them to be successful and happy. If you have even the slightest love for musicals then go see Vanities, it will make you laugh and, if you are like me, nearly cry.

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