Making its debut at Off-Broadway’s Westside Theatre, Chick Flick the Musical – a new work “written by a woman about women for women” (but directed by a man) – unapologetically employs the pejorative term for movies targeting a female audience to laud friendship, mutual support, and a common love of the cinematic genre. While it does just that, it also perpetuates outdated conventions and unenlightened views of contemporary 30- and 40-something women that would be better left uncelebrated.
Suzy Conn, who wrote the music, book, and lyrics, spent the ‘90s in Nashville writing country songs, perhaps indicative of the cliché-ridden story and timeworn female stereotypes: the overextended working woman trying to balance a career and family; the aging actress who hasn’t yet made it and is ready to pack it in; the pastry entrepreneur who can’t let go of her cheating man; and the “crazy” one who hasn’t grown up and maintains a penchant for much younger dates that she finds on the internet. What begins as a BFF bonding session over their common love of the eponymous films, soon turns into a self-pity party, with the women commiserating about men, careers, men, the frustrations of life, and men, while drinking, binging on junk food, drinking more, giving each other makeovers, stress-eating more, and drinking even more on their “girls night in.”
Referencing a wide selection of movies in the genre, in a – you guessed it! – drinking game based on identifying famous lines from the films and, visually, in a wall filled with framed stylized posters of their familiar promotional images, the show challenges the audience’s knowledge of the pop-culture phenomenon (so if you’re not an aficionado, you’ll miss most of the central conceit). The quotations are used to offer commonplace advice to the protagonists, resulting in a formulaic happy-ending fantasy that characterizes the films that inspired it. In between are groan-inducing attempts at risqué humor with double-entendres and suggestive one-liners (e.g., “The hard ones are the best”) that seem more suited to adolescents than adults.
Despite the banality of the narrative, a talented ensemble – Sharon Catherine Brown, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, Carla Duren, and Megan Sikora – captures the affable (albeit hackneyed) characters and situations, their camaraderie, conflicts, and concerns, with as much commitment and vitality as anyone could possibly muster. Under David Ruttura’s fast-paced direction and fluid transitions, not a moment is wasted or delayed, and Sarah O’Gleby provides buoyant choreography that fits the themes and moods of Conn’s songs. They, too, are well-suited to the personalities and filled with lively pop rhythms, high-energy expressiveness, and nods to ’60s girl groups, from the introductory “Chick Flick” and “The Chick Flick Drinking Game,” both performed by the ensemble, to Duren’s bluesy “Eat Your Feelings” when her character is feeling depressed and blue. All of the vocals and harmonies are consistently powerful and emotive, backed by a first-rate five-piece live band (with music direction by Matt Castle). And an eye-popping artistic design likewise evinces the show’s high production values, with impressive character-defining costumes by Suzy Benzinger, colorful lighting by Jeff Croiter, and a clever set by Jason Sherwood that underscores the derivative theme and facilitates the non-stop action.
There is undoubtedly a market for this type of stock entertainment; those who can’t get enough of the titular movies will surely enjoy a live theatrical homage to them in Chick Flick the Musical. And apart from the stale story, everyone should appreciate the quality of the excellent vocals, musicianship, and artistic design.
Running Time: Approximately 85 minutes, without intermission.