Roughly 30 years ago, the two quirky friends first appeared on stage in Robin Schiff’s Ladies Room as two minor (according to Schiff they were just filler) yet incredibly memorable, characters. Twenty years ago, after some production struggles, they hit the silver screen as lead characters in their own movie, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion becoming an instant cult classic. The movie is beloved among young and old as it is funny, relatable, and simple. So now, in 2017, the story has been brought to the stage in the form of a musical theater production… and it’s brilliant!
I first found out about this musical two years ago when I saw a reading at Rockwell Table and Stage in Los Angeles. As an avid fan of the movie since its theatrical release opening weekend, I knew I had to check it out. After a little research, I learned that Robin Schiff herself had written the book for the musical. I was definitely intrigued but didn’t know what to expect. I mean to make a funny and campy movie into a musical would be a big undertaking to do well. The reading did not disappoint me at all. I was laughing the entire time and left with the songs stuck in my head. I honestly felt the show, if done right, could be a huge hit.
Two years later I found myself seated in Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theater praying I would not be disappointed. It was going to have to at least live up to the movie… and that is a high standard. I sat among many diehard fans of the flick and we chatted about our hopes that it would do the it justice. I met a wonderful pair of friends who were high school students and they knew every line of the movie. That blew my mind as they weren’t even alive when it came out. All I could think of was if this show wasn’t good then there would be many disappointed fans.
I’m ecstatic to say the show gripped me from the very first moment Romy and Michele hit the stage. I’m not sure I blinked until intermission. There were moments where I could not breath due to laughing so hard. The audience roared with laughter more than I’ve ever heard for any musical. The comedic timing of Romy (Cortney Wolfson) and Michele (Stephanie Wall) is absolutely flawless. The first song, “Romy and Michele’s Big Night Out,” really show cased this right away and its nonstop from there. Wall embodies so much of the characteristics, mannerisms, and voice that Lisa Kudrow gave the original Michele that you forget it’s not Kudrow up there herself. Her comedic style is brilliant, add that to Wall’s incredibly strong powerhouse vocals and you have actual perfection!
Other cast standouts were Jordan Burnett who played Heather Mooney and Michael Thomas Grant who played Sandy Frink. Burnett embodied the character of Heather Mooney flawlessly and brought the house down with her just incredible vocals during her solo song “Love is…” The character was toned down a bit for the show and while she is less vulgar she is still the Heather Mooney the fans love. Grant brought to life both the nerdy and hunky versions of Sandy Frink in a completely believable manner. His character portrayal and vocals were absolutely phenomenal.
The story follows the movie closely but it adds so much depth to the characters. Everything that worked for a laugh in the original was adapted for the staged version plus there are many updated jokes that add to the humor. Gone is the iconic fake orgasm scene and Heather Mooney’s love of the F-word but added is a much closer look at the relationship between Romy and Michele. The song “Coolest Person I Know” gives us an intimate look at the fall out of the A-Group putting magnets on Michele’s back brace. Gone is the mysterious cowboy but don’t worry as Heather Mooney isn’t left without a happy ending. Most importantly the reunion dance is brought to life right before your eyes… scored to an original instrumental by the show’s composers Brandon Jay and Gwendolyn Sanford and choreographed by Peggy Hickey… and it is even more hilarious. The dream sequences worked much better in this musical version than they did in the movie… which actually surprised me. The ending is different but it’s a darn good different and great update to the story.
The design team nailed every aspect of the show as well. Amy Clark’s costumes were exactly what you would expect Romy and Michele to wear. The use of awkward and not so refined costumes for the high school flashback versus the very well-tailored and cute costumes for the “modern day” scenes made you realize the personal growth of Romy and Michele. It was subtle but very effective. Donyale Werle designed an incredibly versatile, bright, and beautiful main set and several detailed smaller sets. The main set was easily changed from living room, to night club, to high school courtyard, to prom… and many more places… with minor adjustments and rolled in smaller sets. The amount of set changes and costume changes in absolutely mind blowing. Jason Lyons and Catherine Girardi did an amazing job with the lighting as it was gorgeous and complimentary to the set design.