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Vanities: The Musical review at Trafalgar Studios, London – ‘terrific vocals’

Lauren Samuels, Ashleigh Gray and Lizzy Connolly in Vanities: The Musical at Trafalgar Studios, London. Photo: Pamela Raith

There’s a genre of fiction that some people call chick lit – women-centred narratives designed to appeal to young women readers. There’s also a musical theatre equivalent, most famously represented by Wicked, that tell stories of female friendship, conflict and empowerment.

Playwright Jack Heifner and composer David Kirschenbaum have added to the genre, adapting Heifner’s long-running 1976 off-Broadway play Vanities into a modest cabaret musical that transferred to New York’s Second Stage in 2009 after debuting in California, and is now receiving its belated London premiere.

Like The Witches of Eastwick, it’s a show about three long-time friends, whom we first meet when they are high school cheerleaders in Texas. It then follows them to a sorority house as they are completing their university education, before leaping ahead to a Manhattan penthouse where one of them is now living. But unlike the women in Witches, they’re not defined in relation to a man, but in relation to each other and their morphing personal and professional lives.

Maybe it’s a function of musicalising the source material, but Vanities has a tendency to feel by turns mushy, manipulative and contrived. Though the plot is cheesier and has more holes than a block of Emmental, Kirshenbaum has also provided a set of bright, attractive songs that contain echoes of the Supremes and Burt Bacharach, but also a punchy individuality of their own. I can imagine them being transplanted to plenty of cabaret programmes. And they are performed here with great gusto and terrific vocals by the sensational trio of Lauren Samuels, Lizzy Connolly and Ashleigh Gray.

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A trio of superb performances elevate an otherwise bland musical