Book by Annabel Fitzsimmons, Alison Lawrence, and Mary Francis Moore. Music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Bob Foster. Directed by Valerie Easton. Musical direction by Diane Lines. At the Arts Club Granville Island Stage on Wednesday, June 21. Continues until July 29
I brought a friend who’s in the middle of a messy breakup to see Bittergirl: The Musical. She found it cathartic. And whether you’re in or out of love, this production is a whole lot of fun.
Bittergirl began as a stage play by Annabel Fitzsimmons, Alison Lawrence, and Mary Francis Moore, and was later expanded into this musical, which boasts girl-group classics alongside a few disco-era hits. The characters don’t have names. "A" (Lauren Bowler) is a law-school dropout who put her career on hold to put her now ex-partner through grad school; "B" (Katrina Reynolds) is a flaky new-ager who was dumped by her equally flaky boyfriend; and "C" (Cailin Stadnyk) is a married career woman whose husband left her and their child.
Structurally, the show isn’t perfect. The first act intersperses songs with choral storytelling, as the women go through the predictable stages of grief, denial, rage, and trying to change so that he’ll love her again. The rhythm is a bit choppy, but director Valerie Easton’s choreographic talents make these tricky sequences fly—like one in which pairs of actors take turns making insensitive comments to the third, changing voices and roles on a dime. And there’s plenty of wit in the song choreography: just check out the fitness routines in a hilarious medley of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Hot Stuff". The second act settles into longer scenes, like a very funny tequila binge that lands the trio in jail.
Bowler, Reynolds, and Stadnyk are a powerhouse cast, and the three complement each other perfectly. Bowler has a big, soulful voice, Reynolds seems to be channelling a whole canon of cartoon characters, and Stadnyk rides the edge of comedy and desperation with grace. They are all gifted physical comedians, and their singing, which often shifts from gorgeous three-part harmony to spot-on unison in a single bar, is heavenly. And you couldn’t ask for a better set of songs: the show boasts classics like “Anyone Who Had a Heart", “Tell Him”, and “Be My Baby.”
Josh Epstein plays all the men—a hipster dude, a dad, and a prof—and brings playful, inventive delivery to every cringe-inducing line (“This is hard for me; you’ve got to understand that"). Epstein is also a terrific singer and a fearless mover who holds his own with the women.
Musical director Diane Lines leads a four-woman band that puts the icing on the sweet sounds of the songs. Carmen Alatorre’s costumes are terrific: she hides workout gear under basic black dresses and sequins under prison jumpsuits.
So, whether you’ve got a broken heart or just want some fun summer entertainment, Bittergirl will bring you joy and laughter.