On the trip down to the Oriental Theatre tonight for the pre-Broadway World Premiere of “First Wives Club, the Musical”, my thoughts were on trying to remember the movie that this new musical is based on. The movie was fun and loaded with talent, as three college friends reunite to find that they share more than just the memories of their years in school. I had heard through the grapevine that they were working hard on making this play work, before it goes to the “Big Apple”. For those of you unfamiliar with pre-Broadway shows, it is like a try-out or preview so the writers and director can see how the audience reacts to some of the numbers or scenes. Over these weeks, they work feverishly to make the changes that are needed before taking the plunge in New York.
Chicago has been a haven for Broadway in the past years. Our audiences are quite sophisticated and very into their theater. Producers are well aware of the quality that our audiences expect and work very hard to make sure that we get it. In a tryout, changes can be made every day, sometimes huge, often small, so the actors, after a night of sleep are greeted with the changes to learn, then rehearse them, and then, that night, perform the new song, or lines or scene. Amazingly, they get it done and we never know what has changed from what people saw the night before.
“First Wives Club, the Musical” has been in town for awhile, and we had heard some snippets from those we knew who attended. Saying this, I was not prepared for what I saw this evening. A much better show than I anticipated! Yes, they told the story that was told in the film version, with some slight differences.Yes, it still takes us into the lives of these three women, and their other friend Cynthia (Michelle Duffy). All three, Annie (Carmen Cusack), Brenda (Faith Prince) and Elise (Chicago actress, Christine Sherrill) are in doomed marriages and work together to change their lives thru their “First Wives Club”. I told you, it is the same basic story.
Being a musical, more music is needed than in the movie version, but they do have some of the melodies from the film; “Reach Out…I’ll Be There”, “Stop In The Name of Love”, and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and many new songs (music and lyrics by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland) and a book (Linda Bloodsworth Thomason) based on the Rupert Holmes book that the film was made from. The music does propel the story and there are some very special moments in this 2 hours and 40 minute production. I think they could make a few cuts here and there and not hurt the production at all. “Old Me New Me” which is the next to the last song showing that the transitions have been made for each of our ladies is a bit longer than need be, and in fact, may not be needed at all.
Our three ladies are solid in voice and character development and none of them attempt to be the characters that were brought forth in the movie version. While I enjoyed the film with Middler, Hawn and Keaton, I found these three women to be absolutely perfect. Faith Prince has great comic timing, Carmen Cusack has a flair for the comedy as well and Christine Sherrill, is as always, divine. The other women in their husband’s lives are: the very funny Morgan Weed, the sexy Lindsey Alley and the adorable Alison Woods- all shining examples of the old saying, “there are no small parts”. They make the pieces fit.
Speaking of the pieces fitting, the three husbands also are part of the equation; Mike McGowan, Gregg Edelman and Sean Murphey Cullen are all up to the standards that have been set by the ladies they have “dumped” for youth. Be prepared , the language in the show is not for little kids. One of the features of this show is an amazing character, Duane (Patrick Richwood is hysterical in the scenes he is in, stealing most of the thunder as he takes on personas that will help his ladies be successful in their quest to “get even”). Watching this “diva” do his thing, is worth the price of admission.
“First Wives Club, the Musical” isably directed by Simon Phillips and the sets are overpowering (Gabriella Tylesova, who also did the costumes). I know that glitz is part of Broadway, but to be honest, I think often the design team goes overboard which can detract from the telling of the story, which is what the production is supposed to do. Entertainment is what theater is all about and distraction from our everyday lives filled with the stress of life itself. This is an entertaining show, a bit too lengthy and perhaps the funeral sequence (the reason that the three friends are reunited) could be softer, but in the long run, I have to say, you will have a good time and walk away feeling entertained.
Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesdays 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m
Tickets range from $33- $100 ( and some premium seats a bit higher) and can be purchased at any of the Broadway In Chicago box offices, by phone- 800-775-2000 or online at www.BroadwayInChicago.com
You can also purchase tickets at all Ticketmaster outlets
The Oriental Theatre is located at 24 West Randolph Street and easy to get to by public transportation.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “First Wives Club, the Musical”