Review: First Wives Club, the musical

FWC posterAs a rule I don’t rebut reviews, even a review of someone else’s work. It’s just one of those “your mileage may vary” things. For every reader who loves Fifty Shades of Grey, there’s a dozen who hate it because they don’t get BDSM, or they prefer short and sweet romance, or they didn’t read it and yet like to act fashionably literary. You don’t have to read the latest bestseller. Goodness knows, you don’t have to like sexy books, or bondage, either. It’s a free world.

But I saw Chris Jones’ review of The First Wives Club musical in the Chicago Tribune and had to comment. Reading Jones’ review, I was reminded of my husband’s remark during the show: “There are guys in this audience who aren’t laughing. They’re wondering if they should go out to the garage and check their center console.” (One of the heroines catches her husband out by finding a leather thong in his car’s center console.)

To respond briefly to Jones: “You don’t get it.”

Proof #1: Jones says of of the actor portraying one of erring husbands that he “looks helpfully great in his skimpies.” This is the scene where Billy, Elise’s ex, sings of how lucky he is to have this hot young thing, and how he’s such a stud.

I was there on press opening night, at the same performance Jones saw. When a self-congratulating Billy let his bathrobe fall open on his paunch and his Speedo, I heard one woman in the audience blurt out a derisive, “Oh my God!” and another yell, “Suck it in, Billy!” Laughter—female laughter—erupted all over the house. Of course I was sitting in a side section, not in the center with celebs and reviewers who only got Billy fully frontal, so maybe Jones missed the impressive curve of Billy’s belly.

Proof #2: Jones complained about the “unnecessary catfight scene.” Jones is flunking the Bechdel test here. In stories about women’s relationships with one another exclusive of their relationships with men, you will have a black moment about the main characters. Who are the women. Or would he call the black moment in Wicked an “unnecessary catfight scene” between Galinda and Elphaba?

Proof #3: The men in the story are not “all jerks…all idiots” as Jones accuses—well, not all the time. Brenda’s husband Morty actually returns to her, contrite yet heart-wrenchingly noble in a hair-pieced, potbellied way. My hubby sniffled through that scene, as did I.

I guess Jones didn’t get it, though.

(Jones also got several major facts about the plot wrong.)

The Tribune really should be ashamed. This is like asking Greg Kot to review a Shania Twain concert. I’m not mocking Jones. I’m just sorry he had to sit through a show that wasn’t written for him.

I want that coat. And the legs, too.

I want that coat. And the legs, too.

The First Wives Club was written by Olivia Goldsmith and published in 1992. Goldsmith was famous for witty, glitzy, sprawling women’s fiction full of feminist anger and yet compassion for all. The novel was made into a movie with Goldie Hawn, Bette Midler, and Diane Keaton in 1996. A blast through Wikipedia and its sources shows that Goldsmith lived the Manhattan high life she so often wrote about, with a personality as big and outrageous as the characters in her books. She got six- and seven-figure advances for her books and reveled in an A-list lifestyle.

Goldsmith’s specialty was the high concept.

· Three women burned by divorce get revenge on their exes. (First Wives Club)
· A woman meets her husband’s mistress, realizes she’s a dead ringer for herself twenty years ago, and convinces the girl to gain twenty pounds and switch places with her. (Switcheroo)
· A philandering man seems to have the magic touch—every woman he dates marries happily the next man she dates. (Dumping Billy)
· A widow’s three adult children matchmake for her so she’ll stop butting into their lives. (Marrying Mom)

As a humble pretender at high concept, I deeply admire her ideas and her execution.

So what did I think of The First Wives Club musical?

OMG the Lagerfeld impersonater!

OMG the Lagerfeld impersonater!

The casting is ideal—each of the three wives is perfect. Christine Sherrill, reprising Keaton’s role as prissy Annie, does a better job than Keaton. The story is pared way down from Goldsmith’s 576-page novel and works very well in this tighter format. Visually the show is stunning, especially every set piece and prop intended to portray tacky. From Elise’s late-80s glam to the Jersey chippy’s what-was-she-thinking wardrobe, all the clothes are fabulous. Speaking of fabulous, Patrick Richwood plays a flaming Jersey hairdresser posing as “Duarto,” a fashionable Manhattan interior decorator. He blows me away with his Karl Lagerfeld impression.

What’s weak? The score. The classic Motown songs make the rest of the score sound bland and generic, even though it is written by those same Motown songwriters, the Holland-Dozier-Holland team. Mind, I have a degree in old-fashioned music and no patience for pop musical scores with motifs instead of songs. Monty Python’s “The Song That Goes Like This” about sums that up for me. For that reason I would cheerfully have sat through each of the new songs for about half as many verses. Trimming those would tighten the show and speed up the pace.

Speaking as a romance writer, I also suggest to the producers that they keep every song that highlights a moment of change in the story, and cut or shorten the ones that pause for a moment of sittin’ and thinkin’. Give me a show where you can remember every number, like Brigadoon, and not something where you go home whistling the scenery, like Phantom of the Opera. Some people adore the “music” in Phantom. I admit, I’m a horrible music snot with fixed tastes, and I’m very hard to please.

Would I recommend this musical to my friends? To the women, absolutely. I’d probably spare my divorced male friends, unless I thought they could a) laugh at themselves and b) stay awake.

See it and make up your own mind. Your mileage may vary.

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Review: First Wives Club, the musical — 1 Comment