Judith Ivey Picked to Helm Vanities Musical

News   Judith Ivey Picked to Helm Vanities Musical
Actress Judith Ivey's career as a director will extend into musical theatre this year when she stages the New York commercial bow of Vanities, the Musical, Playbill.com has learned.
Judith Ivey
Judith Ivey

The two-time Tony Award-winning actress' current directorial gig is the run of Fugue, playing to April 22 at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

Vanities, based on the Jack Heifner hit play of the same name, with book by Heifner and music and lyrics by David Kirshenbaum, recently won the San Francisco Critics Circle Awards for Best Musical and Best Score, after its 2006 world premiere by TheatreWorks in Palo Alto.

Playbill.com has learned that Junkyard Dog Productions (attached to the William Finn revue Make Me a Song) will lead-produce the intimate three-actress musical about Texas cheerleaders who evolve between the 1960s and '70s.

Casting and production details have not been officially announced, but the show is expected to bow in Manhattan in 2007-08.

Texas native Ivey won Tonys for Steaming and Hurlyburly, and appeared in Broadway's Precious Sons, Follies (the Roundabout staging), Piaf, Park Your Car in Harvard Yard and Voices in the Dark. Her next directorial project is The Butcher of Baraboo at Second Stage's uptown space, starting May 24.


The first Manhattan blush of the new musical, Vanities, happened in the National Alliance for Musical Theatre's Festival of New Musicals Oct. 8-9, 2006.

Megan Hilty (Broadway's Wicked), Leslie Kritzer (Off-Broadway's The Great American Trailer Park Musical, Paper Mill's Funny Girl) and Sarah Stiles (touring Dr. Dolittle, Broadway and Atlanta's The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), who all appeared in the Vanities world premiere for TheatreWorks in California earlier in 2006, again played the ladies who mature over a decade of social and personal change.


Kirshenbaum also wrote songs for the dawning musical Party Come Here and the Off-Broadway musical Summer of '42.

Heifner's plays also include Earth to Bucky, Patio/Porch, Natural Disasters, Running On Empty, Bargains, Jumping for Joy, Boy's Play, Home Fires, Heartbreak, Comfort and Joy, The Lemon Cookie, Dwarf Tossing and Key West.

The intermissionless book musical follows the trio of friends for a decade (as does the play), and includes a new coda that tells what happened to them since the 1970s. Heifner said fans of the hot regional property have asked him over the years what happened to the ladies, but he always resisted writing about it — until now.

Heifner said the process of turning the Off-Broadway hit into a musical has "been remarkably easy, which I've been surprised about because musical theatre is so hard."

He added, "The best compliment I've heard is that you can't tell where my words stop and David's words start. At the moment I feel very optimistic. I had my doubts for years about whether it's a good idea to make it a musical, but now I see it is."

The play's first production was a showcase co-staging by Lion Theatre Company and Playwrights Horizons in December 1975. Commercial producers moved it to Off-Broadway in March 1976, and it continued to 1981.

The warm drama with humor was written in three scenes (1963, 1968 and 1974) and struck such a chord with playgoers that it not only ran 1,785 performances at the Westside Theatre in New York, but blossomed in regional theatres.

"It's one of those things that has gotten done by virtually every theatre in the country, but now we're giving it new life," Kirshenbaum said. "It's a comedy that winds up being moving. It follows the three women, Kathy, Joanne and Mary, from 1963 when they are high school cheerleaders through college years and up to 1974 and explores the different paths their lives take — and the ways they have so much in common."

Kirshenbaum admitted he at first felt "daunted" addressing the show as a musical "because it worked so well as a play." He said Heifner is "open to reinventing it in musical theatre terms," but they have no plans to fix what isn't broken.

Such major names as Kathy Bates, Stockard Channing and Elizabeth Ashley have appeared in productions over the years. Composer Kirshenbaum said he fully expects that the future rehearsal room for a commercial run to include "three great musical theatre women."

The musical version of the Texas-set show (which doesn't refer specifically to Texas) remains in the period it was written for, which means Kirshenbaum flirts with pop sounds that echo girl-groups, R&B, Burt Bacharach, Carol King and Carly Simon.

The conceit of the play has the actresses putting on makeup at vanities before their scenes.

Kathy Bates, Jane Galloway and Susan Merson starred in the original Off-Broadway production of Vanities, directed by Garland Wright.

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