In the words of the karaoke favorite, “Girls just wanna have fun.” So do theatergoers of both genders, but “Girls Night: The Musical” doesn’t make it easy. A wild night out with five friends in their frankly 40s, singing standards from their salad days, might promise all sorts of delightful behavior and witty insights. But superficial writing and staging yield merely a low-rent “Mamma Mia!” on the level of a liquored-up bachelorette party, which indeed may be show’s ideal if not sole demographic.
U.K. scribe Louise Roche’s script has been more or less Americanized by Betsy Kelso for a Scottsdale, Ariz., premiere and now this first stop on a U.S. tour. Roche’s playwrighting, to use the term out of courtesy, consists of five stereotypes who assemble to celebrate a daughter’s engagement, pour the booze and let ‘er rip. No story necessary.
We’re supposed to laugh and cry along with blowsy Carol (Janine Smith), bitter Liza (Sonya Carter), neurotic Anita (Lisa Fogel) and repressed, sure-to-get-drunk-and-horny Kate (Danielle Wetzel), but their interactions in Shaun L. Motley’s garishly attractive purple ‘n’ pink nightclub lounge are wooden at best and painfully vulgar at worst (including an anatomically correct male blow-up doll, suitable for ring toss).
Occasional flashbacks to the teen years add to the backstory but not to the show’s appeal or interest, and a late-inning revelation just accentuates the thinness of what’s come before.
Hovering over the foursome is a ghost, and not just the ghost of “Sex and the City,” whose inside-the-powder-room naughtiness “Girls Night” would love a piece of. It’s the spirit of Sharon (Jennifer Jane), two-decades-dead mother of the bride and your hostess for the evening. Sharon sits on the sidelines in blazing white denim with wings and glitter eye shadow, from time to time sweating through cartwheels to get the aud to stand up and shake its booty. Her catty narration suggests there’s no more grace in the afterlife than in the here and now.
Along the way Roche abrogates even more responsibility by arbitrarily dropping the engagement premise: The bride never arrives and no one seems to care. There’s no reality to the karaoke, either: no DJ, no searching through playlists, no struggling with lyrics (no lyric machine at all), no moment of a duckling becoming a swan at the mike. Conversations simply act as preselected, heavy-handed song-and-dance cues.
Under Jack Randle’s direction, the ladies maintain the same degree of drunkenness throughout, with comic delivery that might seem a little extreme in Radio City Music Hall, let alone the midsized Coronet. Fogel and Smith manage to sneak some vestiges of truthfulness into their over-the-top roles, but the others are unmitigated caricatures.
What’s left are the songs, a catalog of female empowerment anthems from the disco era on down. Vocal performances are strong and dance moves, no choreographer credited, marked by unquestionable energy in spite of their sameness. (Jane must set some sort of world record for doing the Pony.)
But this isn’t a concert; it’s a musical play. The fun of the numbers can’t compensate for the dead stretches between them.