and Leigh Anna Reichenbach
Music by Will Buck, Becky Menzie,
Mike O’Mara and Leigh Anna Reichenbach
Directed by Heather Townsend
Saccharine Musical Needs More Seasoning
Join the Club!, a rather pleasant debut by a new production company now showing in downtown Skokie, presents all the clichés about those who join women’s clubs — the cheerful, “girls of all ages” who spend their time seeking to expand membership, creating and responding to committee reports and volunteering for good deeds. This stereotypical focus provides both the triumph and failure of this original, all-female musical.
The triumphs lie in showing the positives of female friendship, bonding, and community and in what the playwrights succeed in doing when shifting from the central story to the moments of their character’s lives that illustrate marriage, children, and Brazilian waxes. The flaws lie in a cloying, overly saccharine interpretation that may set women’s clubs back 100 years. What the play most lacks are tension and suspense. It is difficult to care about Sara (Elizabeth Mazur), the protagonist or — indeed — about any of the club members.
The story line is direct and predictable. In order to keep her job, Sara, a reluctant young lawyer, is sent to engage in community service via membership in one such club. There, she meets the women she initially snubs but with whom she will eventually bond: MC (Melissa Paris), Bette (Anita Silvert), Cynthia (Glo Rolighed), and Gabe (Irene Kelly). All have fine voices which do more than justice to the intermittently clever score.
Some of the music sounds derivative, and some is actually noted as such — as in parodies of The Shoop Shoop Song (Rudy Clark) and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The latter has hilarious words as Cynthia bitterly complains while clinging to a table. (The program calls it the Massage Song, but because the board was vertical it might be even more pointed if it the table represented an MRI or, even better, a Mammogram).
It is in moments like those which deviate from the central “good deed,” where the play most comes to life. The best are when Sara complains about getting the middle seat in an airplane, and when the entire ensemble, scrambling on exercise mats, performs “I want to do Yoga.”
Their good deed is in working to make a crumbling edifice into a viable women’s shelter. However, there doesn’t seem to be enough material to carry this — thus, the asides which punctuate this theme by focusing on other aspects of their lives.
While remodeling the new women’s shelter, all don cute, maroon tool belts with pink hammers hanging off one side, and even cuter pink hard hats and sing about “Working on the House.” and putting the “Social in Social Service.”
One of the PR pieces linked this work to Menopause the Musical, and The Full Monty. No! It lacks the saltiness of these works. Don’t come expecting more than mild shocks and scant insight.
Scenic Designer Toby Nicholson’s minimal staging is clever, with back walls shifted from the clubhouse to the shelter as well as to scenes in a nightclub and a gym. A live band with Musical Director Julie Crossen on Piano, Vincent Kabat on bass and Nick Kabat on drums enhances the songs. Additional positives lie in the renovation of the small, intimate Skokie Theater, once the dark, narrow home of films. It is now a lovely playhouse with comfortable seats, good sight lines and an excellent sound system, offering a bright future for new works — many of which may well come from this promising new production company: Taslitz/Reichenbach.
Beverly Friend, Ph.D.
Member American Theater Critics Assn.
Skokie Theatre, 7924 Lincoln Ave., Skokie.