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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 23, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 25
Back to high school with Romy & Michele
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Back to high school with Romy & Michele

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

ROMY & MICHELE'S
HIGH SCHOOL REUNION,
THE MUSICAL
5TH AVENUE THEATRE
Through July 2


True to following the current musical trends, the latest screen-to-stage adaptation is the comedy Romy & Michele's High School Reunion. The movie has reached a certain cult status and has become a beloved film with the American populace. While the stage production remains mostly loyal to the original storyline (for better or worse), a few plot points have been changed - but not enough.

The story follows Romy and Michele, two best friends for many years, who were social outcasts at school for following the beat of their own drum. When the invitation for the 10th Anniversary High School Reunion appears the girls are afraid they won't match up to their classmates success, and hesitate to accept. Eventually, they decide to go back and use false pretenses to make themselves appear more successful to their snobby classmates. While planning their trip, the two best friends get into a disagreement and decide to separately return to the reunion. After their ruse is exposed, the girls' school nemesis mercilessly taunts them. The two best friends bond back together and take on their snooty classmates showing that they were always the more successful ones in their class for being non-conformists.

Courtney Wolfson and Stephanie Renee Walls (Romy White and Michele Weinberger, respectively) are the two best friends leads. Both voices are strong and they complement each other very well. Both actresses have notable previous credits but their performances seem stiff, and the interactions with one another almost detached. Maybe it's because they are trying so desperately to impersonate their screen predecessors.

While there are subtle differences between the film version and the stage musical of Romy & Michele (the smoking cowboy has been omitted for example) it is the similarities that seem to be more of a detriment. The producers/directors are trying too hard to recreate the film on stage. The two talented actresses are trying too much to impersonate the originals (Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino) that played the roles, instead of trying to give them any of their own originality or flair. There are also times when the two leads are dressed/quaffed/sound so much alike that it becomes difficult to tell them apart unless you are overly familiar with the original movie's script. The reunion dance with Sandy Frink is recreated almost exactly as in the film (as danced by Alan Cumming), and while it is funny, I would rather have seen something more unique.

The two supporting leads are Heather Mooney (Jordan Kai Burnett) and Sandy Frink (Michael Thomas Grant), as the two unrequited lovers from high school. Ms. Burnett does a great job as the moody teen that turns into an aggressive businesswoman. Her voice is strong and she has the pleasure to belt out the most memorable song (the only memorable song?) from the show (thus far), 'Love is Bullshit,' bringing the house down without effort. Mr. Grant plays Sandy Frink very well. As the school nerd-turned-hero, he does the geeky thing to a tee, and his transformation into the super-successful man has the audience cheering him the entire way. While having only group songs in the first act, Mr. Grant has the chance to let his voice be heard during the last part of the show, and he wonderfully belts it out. It is impossible for the audience not to appreciate the powerful instrument this man possesses.

The musical's script is written by the film's screenwriter as well, Robin Schiff (which explains the extreme facsimile), while the songs are original and written for the stage production by Gwendolyn Sanford and Brandon Jay. The music fits the pop, bubblegum era of '80s music, but the lyrics leave the audience with nothing memorable (the large exception is the chorus to 'Love is Bullshit'). A final scene has been added; but while it wraps up the story with a tidy ending, it is pretty much dispensable. The show should end when the reunion does.

The 5th Avenue Theatre has produced over 15 original productions since 2000. While some have gone on to become great hits (Hairspray, Memphis, Shrek) others have not fared so well (Lone Star Love, Saving Aimee/Scandalous, Princesses). We are asked to remember that this is still a Work-In-Progress*; songs, scenes, and just about everything else is susceptible to change. While Romy & Michele is a fun show and has potential, it would be better off if the actors were given more opportunities to interpret the roles suited to their own talents instead of trying to be a copy of someone else's work. It's not so much the girls as the musical itself that needs to return to high school. Maybe then it will learn what it wants to be when it graduates.

Romy & Michele's High School Reunion is based on the hit 1997 film. The movie version starred Lisa Kudrow (Michele), Mira Sorvino (Romy), Alan Cumming (Barry Frink), and Janeane Garofalo (Heather Mooney). The stage production is now making it's premier at the 5th Avenue Theatre.

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