It’s 1963. Some of you may remember that was the year Kennedy was assassinated. When a high school PA announces the president was shot, that classes are dismissed, but the football rally will take place as planned, our heroines assume it’s the president of the student body.
Kathy( Amy Keum), Joanne (Haley Podschun), and Mary (Jade Jones) are Texas besties. The three cheerleaders ostensibly live in more innocent times. Their concerns, especially those of Kathy who runs everything, are with clothes, boyfriends, the football team, the dance. Kathy wants to go to college “but I don’t want to learn anything.” Joanne aspires to marriage, children, and the country club. Mary, who comes from a rough background, just wants to get out. They will, of course, be friends forever. Values and dialogue make this sound like the 1950s – but then, it’s Texas.
Jade Jones, Haley Podschun, Amy Keum
1968. All are at the same college, in the same sorority. Kathy majors in PE – a path of least resistance. She’s still managing things. Her boyfriend has moved on. Joanne majors in music because sign-up tables had less of a crowd. “If we start letting people wear jeans to dinner and smoke…” she begins still protective of conservative standards. Joanne is marrying high school boyfriend, Ted. Mary majors – we have no clue why – in interior decoration. She sleeps around – and smokes. They’re poised to graduate.
Flower Children are incomprehensible. Marijuana stinks. Joanne is worried Ted might be drafted and really, why get involved? They decide to put on the musical Hair based on headlines of popularity. What a surprise that will be! In other words, none are affected by national upheaval. Despite an excess of dialogue and song, no real change has occurred.
Mannequins at the back that were dressed in cheerleading outfits now wear what Costume Designer Barbara Erin Delo conceives of as period-indicative clothes. Were these young women as aware of style as the play purports, they wouldn’t be caught dead in this ugly, tasteless apparel.
Amy Keum, Jade Jones, Haley Podschun
1974. Having not seen one another for years, Kathy invites her former classmates to a penthouse terrace apartment on loan from an unknown man so that she might find herself. This is never clarified. To say the three have grown apart minimizes schisms. Things go swiftly downhill. “Friendship isn’t what it used to be,” they sing. Only circumstances have changed. Are you still awake? 1990 (This last was added to the show’s second, 1979 iteration.) Kathy, Joanne and Mary meet at a funeral and reconcile.
The story is dated rather than universal. It needs editing, yet also some explanation. Arcs are minor evoking no sympathy. Both character parameters and songs are based on clichés.
The three actresses, talented in their own rights, don’t seem to relate as friends. There’s no warmth or unwritten reaction. All can sing. Haley Podschun delivers the most relatable performance, but looks older than the others creating a disconnect.
Haley Podschun, Amy Keum, Jade Jones
Both Will Pomerantz’s direction and James Morgan’s antiseptically white set are less imaginative than usual. Orchestrations by Lynn Shankel and vocal arrangements by Carmel Dean and Bryan Perri are lively and textured under musical direction by Deborah Abramson.
The show is pleasant enough but no more.
Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Jade Jones (Mary), Amy Keum (Kathy), Haley Podschun (Joanne)
The York Theatre Company presents
Vanities -The Musical
Book by Jack Heifner
Music & Lyrics by David Kirschenbaum
Directed by Will Pomerantz
Through April 22, 2023
The York Theatre
The Theatre at St. Jean’s
150 East 76th Street