This show was a true international sensation, opening off-Broadway and proceeding to play everywhere from Vegas to India, but I’m having an enormous amount of trouble understanding why. I can only presume this material is actually somehow funny to women who are actively going through these experiences, so the show managed the mother of all good timing in coming out at about the time the female baby-boomers were at this particular stage. The show also has a tendency to rely on talented performers in its productions to make its actual writing seem funnier than it really is. But the actual material is fairly low-quality, and certainly doesn’t justify the show’s massive success.
The gist of the show is this: the four lead characters are personality-less stereotypes that think they’re some kind of feminine archetypes, who all meet at a department store when they fight over merchandise (given that the show was written entirely by females, it seems to wallow in sexist stereotypes much more than you would expect), and proceed to sing a series of parodies of old Sixties and Seventies pop standards. The lyrics to these parodies are written with little craftsmanship (often they don’t even scan properly), and less creativity, with such painfully obvious song concepts as turning “Stayin’ Alive” into “Stayin’ Awake” (and that’s actually one of the more successful parodies).
Particularly uncomfortable and tasteless is an extended series of songs about sex toys…I promise you, you’ll never be able to listen to “Good Vibrations” the same way again. The show is even worse when it tries to be ‘inspiring’—the nauseatingly sugary finale, “This Is Your Day”, is actually far less funny than the song it ‘parodies’ (the Village People’s camp classic “YMCA”). Frankly, the most enjoyable thing about the show is the borrowed tunes, and when the song-parody revue you’re listening to seems like it would have worked better as a straight Jukebox Musical, that’s rarely a good sign.
I’ll grant you that I’m not part of the show’s target audience, but we had a rough equivalent to this kind of humor for the previous generation of middle-aged women in comedic writer Erma Bombeck. Now, Bombeck gets made fun of a lot today, and not without reason, but at least her humor had enough of an eye for vivid detail that I can see why women identified with her humorous descriptions of the foibles of marriage and motherhood. I honestly don’t get why anyone finds this identifiable…the descriptions of the problems of menopause are so generic that it honestly seems more like blatant pandering from some cynical advertiser than the testimony of someone who’s actually experienced these things, and you’d think anyone who’s lived more than forty years would see through it.
Nevertheless, this show appears to have a built-in audience that I suppose provides a reasonable explanation for its success, but it hasn’t earned that success with actual quality or craftsmanship, and compared to almost any ‘real’ theater musical, it is instantly revealed as the lowbrow, calculated trash it is. I’ll admit that I’ve defended the High School Musical franchise in the past, and they’re certainly pandering to a specific demographic just as much as this is (and also look pretty paltry next to most ‘real’ musicals), but at least that franchise had scripts with actual stories and characters and catchy tunes that they actually came up with themselves.
This show, on the other hand, has almost no story, a bunch of stolen tunes, and no real content beyond the unfunny and obvious song parodies. Some will argue that this is ‘just meant to be fun’ (and I admit that’s basically the argument I generally offer in favor of the High School Musical films), but there’s a certain level of laziness that openly constitutes an insult to a show’s entire audience, and if this doesn’t qualify, I can’t imagine what would.