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Critics have issues with ‘First Wives’

Musical receives mixed to unenthusiastic reviews

The Verdict looks at critical reaction to key productions opening Off Broadway, regionally and abroad that appear likely candidates for further life on Broadway and/or elsewhere.

The tuner adaptation of “First Wives’ Club” opened its out-of-town tryout run at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater on Friday, with initial reviews ranging from mixed to unenthusiastic, signaling that some creative retooling may be in order before the new musical lands in Gotham for its planned Broadway run.

Francesca Zambello (“The Little Mermaid”) helms the stage redux of the 1992 novel and the 1996 pic (toplined by Diane Keaton, Bette Midler and Goldie Hawn) about a trio of divorcees who vow to get even with their ex-husbands. Motown team Holland Dozier Holland provides the music in their first Rialto outing.

Show’s commercial producers, Paul Lambert and Jonas Neilson, have already announced their intentions to bring “First Wives” to Broadway, although no date or theater has yet been confirmed.

Here’s what some critics said:

  • Although the Los Angeles Times’ Charles McNulty acknowledged that the tuner may still manage to please some in the aud, he enumerated multiple reservations. “If you can overlook the often generic R&B elevator music of Motown writing legends Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, the cut-and-pasted and cursorily reimagined book by Rupert Holmes and the fact that the three stars (Barbara Walsh, Karen Ziemba and Sheryl Lee Ralph) seem like they barely know each other, you might very well have a night to remember — though you’ll need plenty of aspirin and water the next day.”

  • The San Diego Union-Tribune’s James Hebert found the first act a bit of a drag but had a good time with the second. Although early on the show moves in “fits and starts,” he wrote, “Once the musical finds that rhythm, it’s funny, it’s kinetic and (for whatever this might be worth) way better than the movie that inspired it.”

  • Although he gave the thumbs-up to some production elements, Sandiego.com’s Welton Jones found the musical largely uninspired: “Despite some really slick production values and a generally tight and perky staging by Francesca Zambello, this is still just another one of those six-finales-in-search-of-a-plot shows.”

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