Theater Reviews

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Coronet Theatre, Los Angeles
Through Jan. 6


The rags-to-riches story behind "Girls Night" will inspire dreamers everywhere.

Creator Louise Roche, a mother of three children under 5, has created a phenomenon that has enjoyed three national tours in the U.K. since 2003. "Girls Night" made it its U.S. premiere at the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Center for the Performing Arts in May, and the Coronet Theatre engagement kicks off the first national tour stateside.

The evening takes place in a karaoke bar where five sex- and relationship-obsessed friends (one now an angel) meet to celebrate a 20-year anniversary. Liza (Sonya Carter) is beautiful and sultry. Anita (Lisa Fogel) lives on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Sharon (Jennifer Jane) is the teenage angel who, like Sarah Jessica Parker (to whom she also bears a passing resemblance) in "Sex and the City," plays host and voyeur.

Carol (Janine Smith) is a tall blond party animal with painted-on pants and secret regrets. Kate (Danielle Wetzel) is the funny-looking Zelda Gilroy of the group. Each (with the exception of the angel) is totally dependent on a conventional male-female relationship for their happiness and sense of functionality.

The brilliance of the musical is that, despite the varying singing talents of the five women and the awkwardness of some of the dialogue, their energy and the good nature of the production overcome all flaws to produce an end result that makes the audience really happy if not spontaneously dancing in the aisles (and even that might come eventually as the cast settles down, gets into character more quickly at the beginning and becomes more adept at the interacting with the audience).

In fact, it is the flaws that help to make "Girls Night" so attractive. The quintet does not include a conventional Hollywood celebrity type, and the costumes are far from flattering, to say the least. But the 14 songs are so brilliantly chosen, and the women are such relentlessly powerful interpreters -- even when their voices strain to the task -- that as the focus shifts from the story to the songs, the audience has no choice but to submit, gladly and fully, to the emotional power of the evening. Considering the heavily female makeup of the audience, men on the street after the show had better watch their step.

And though what might seem at first glance to be a feminist tract set to song turns out to be little more than a routine musical soap opera, the ability of each of the five actors to engage the audience with their stories, their endearing little habits, their big hearts and their occasionally amazing vocal performances way overcomes the plot line's platitudes.

Because each of the quintet is likely to be someone's favorite -- Fogel gives the most impressive pure performance (and the most beautifully sung), Carter the most comfortable, Jane the most dazzling and effectively interactive, Wetzel the goofiest and Smith the most intriguing -- this is a show that will not only have strong word-of-mouth but also have people coming back for more.

The show should travel well, too. It has an infectious, exhilarating sense of intoxication, and the relatively simple set and the few costumes mean that costs cannot be too prohibitive.

GIRLS NIGHT: THE MUSICAL
Presented by Entertainment Events, Robert Dragotta, Frank Prods., Victoria Lang & P.P. Picolli, Mark Schwartz and Nat Harris
Credits:
Playwright: Louise Roche
Original U.K. production by: Goodnights Entertainment
Director: Jack Randle
Production consultant: Kurt Stamm
Set designer: Shaun L. Motley
Lighting designer: Jennifer Kules
Costume designer: Karl Ruckdeschel
Sound designer: Steve Brightwell
Sound engineer: Ian Loftis
Cast:
Sharon: Jennifer Jane
Carol: Janine Smith
Liza: Sonya Carter: Anita: Lisa Fogel
Kate: Danielle Wetzel
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