The tunes for The Old Globe Theatre's The First Wives Club, a New Musical were written by Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland, the songwriting-producing team from Motown's Golden Age (the 1960s). Martha and the Vandellas' “Nowhere to Run” is among the trio's 6 million serious hits. And since “Nowhere to Run” has just passed Gustav Mahler's Resurrection symphony as the coolest song in the history of the universe, you figure this world-premiere entry is worth a look. The guys are Detroit's Lennon-McCartney counterparts in the definitive 20th-century music explosion—but do they have the chops more than 40 years later, and in a theater setting?
They do. In fact, there's an awful lot to like about this movie-turned-Broadway-bound play, whose slow start gives way to a strong statement about wandering husbands and their just deserts. The dialogue needs some revamp; I counted 27 instances in Rupert Holmes' book that don't distinguish the characters or the show, and I stopped there because that's all I had time to jot down. But the players, especially funny Sam Harris as a clotheshorse who becomes an interior decorator, have their assignments under their belts, and the storyline serves as more than a bridge between the tunes. This is a smart, hip tale colored with seamless music and a few high-stakes twists in which the women deservedly wear the pants.
It's only too bad the ball has to get rolling with Cynthia Swann's suicide. Her husband cultivated a roving eye, same as the mates of the story's three surviving principals; the old school chums find themselves in a fight when the men's adultery seeps into the gals' psyches and careers. The women eventually have their way amid a plan to honor Cynthia's memory—those scenes are beautifully written, especially the ones involving Elyse Elliott (Sheryl Lee Ralph). Elyse, an R&B vocalist, has the most to lose in her battle with husband-manager Bill (Kevyn Morrow). Watch as he takes it on the chin amid Elyse's finesse—the chemistry is as letter-perfect as the actors' timing.
The gals open a women's center in Cynthia's name, which is great—but they never say what it's for. “Women's center” conjures far more complex issues than those connected with adultery, and we need more specifics to clarify the girls' efforts. But don't let this anticlimax mess with ya. Francesca Zambello directs a full-throated cast, with the legendary Dozier-Holland trio leading the way. They oughta release “Payback's a Bitch” as a single.This review is based on the evening production of Aug. 2. The First Wives Club, a New Musical runs through Aug. 30 at The Old Globe Theatre mainstage, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park. $55-$81. www.oldglobe.org.Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.