At the 5th Avenue, Robin Schiff’s book for “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” follows her screenplay, right down to the structure that drifts in and out of flashback and fantasy, and it retains that same delightful comic voice.
Who’s ready to have another Romy and Michele day?
The lovable ditzes from “Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion” are back on stage in a new musical adaptation premiering at the 5th Avenue Theatre. It’s a move that brings the characters from the minor cult film full circle — they were sketch comedy personalities and supporting players in writer Robin Schiff’s play “Ladies Room” before making the jump to the screen.
The glitz of a Broadway stage (where the show’s producers hope this musical is headed) would suit these two. They’re irrepressible, thanks to Schiff’s affectionate writing that transcends dumb blonde stereotypes, but they’re also intimately tied to the two distinctive performances that launched them into the pop-culture consciousness. That’s both a hindrance and a help here.
‘Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion’
Through July 2, 5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle; $29-$121 (206-625-1900 or 5thavenue.org).
Schiff’s book follows her screenplay closely, right down to the wonky structure that drifts in and out of flashback and fantasy, and it retains that same delightful comic voice: light-on-its-feet banter punctuated with acidic barbs. (There are some good new lines here, but nothing as funny as the movie’s “This dress exacerbates the genetic betrayal that is my legacy,” which is thankfully intact here.)
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As before, best friends Romy (Cortney Wolfson) and Michele (Stephanie Renee Wall) realize their post-high-school life hasn’t been so impressive when they get an invitation for their 10-year reunion. They’ve since escaped from Tucson to Los Angeles, but will returning just dredge up a fresh round of humiliation from the mean girls who tormented them a decade ago? Maybe inventing a fake success story will help.
Directed by Kristin Hanggi, “Romy and Michele” displays an inconsistent level of attention to recreating the 1997 and 1987 milieus of the film. As for the pair’s number one passion — fashion — the show kills it, with a parade of endlessly inventive costumes from Amy Clark. Of course, the signature shiny blue and pink dresses are here, but also checkerboard-paneled skirts, boldly printed pumps and plenty of neon fringe. Even the dowdy styles worn by their unhip classmates are fun to look at, in their own hideous way.
As for the duo’s other love — junk food — it gets short shrift. A candy smorgasbord is reduced to just one sad bucket of Red Vines, and that Doritos bag Romy so memorably confiscates features an incongruous modern design that sticks out badly.
Obviously, this is ridiculously nitpicky, but for nostalgia bait to succeed, it has to get the ephemera right, and there aren’t many indications the show is interested in being much more than that.
A couple of supporting characters get some fleshing out, including yearbook photographer Toby (Hannah Schuerman) and too-cool-for-school Heather Mooney (Jordan Kai Burnett), whose primary catchphrase is bowdlerized but who also gets the show’s standout number, “Love Is…”, a song that actually feels written for the character who sings it.
Most of the rest of the songs by Gwendolyn Sanford and Brandon Jay (first-time musical songwriters known for their TV scores) fall into one of two categories: generic show tunes that express regret or love or longing (“Ten Years,” “You’re the Coolest Person I Know,” “Without You”) or singing/speaking hybrids that clumsily transplant large swaths of movie dialogue into song (“Business Woman’s Special,” “I Invented Post Its”).
Many of the numbers are enjoyably staged, with kitschy-cute choreography from Peggy Hickey, but this is a score without much of an identity. (The ’80s-pop-heavy film soundtrack is box-checking generic in its own way, but at least those songs do something to establish time and place.)
As for Romy and Michele themselves, there’s something to be said for not messing with a good thing, and neither Wolfson or Wall makes much of an attempt to distinguish their performances from Mira Sorvino’s or Lisa Kudrow’s. For nostalgia’s sake, this is probably the right call, but it’s another factor that limits the musical from establishing its own sense of individuality. Besides, no one can do Sorvino’s deep-voiced Valley Girl patois or Kudrow’s little stammering hitch like they can — and these imitations confirm it.
The show’s finale finally sees an attempt to branch out into new territory, with a plot adjustment that makes sense for all the characters involved, and a joyous big finish that doesn’t merely trade on the good feelings of the source material. It’ll have you exiting the theater with a bounce in your step, and for a show like this, maybe that’s more than enough.