Valley of the Dolls Hits Kitsch Peak

News   Valley of the Dolls Hits Kitsch Peak

Please allow me to introduce myself. For the past three years, I've edited the Off-Broadway Playbill programs. This position has provided me with a unique window on a dynamic community.


Please allow me to introduce myself. For the past three years, I've edited the Off-Broadway Playbill programs. This position has provided me with a unique window on a dynamic community.

With these articles, I begin reporting on this community for the Playbill On-Line service. I'll bring you breaking news, information on upcoming events, and a variety of features.


Ambition, drugs and estrogen boil over in the kitsch crucible which is Valley of the Dolls. Jacqueline Susann's novel, and the 1967 film, remain a benchmark in camp culture. The stage adaptation, currently running Off-Broadway at Circle in the Square Downtown, has all this, now amplified by 30 years' perspective. Valley is the story of three women and the effects of dolls, i.e.. prescription drugs, which lend zest and instability to their lives.

Nelly O'Hara (played on stage by Kate Flannery) is a talented triple-threat performer. Her childish demeanor and enthusiastic belting make her a cross between Judy Garland and doped-up munchkin.

Anne Wells (played by Eliza Coyle), a Radcliffe-educated, small-town girl, finds heartache in the big city as a model and wife of a talent agent. Her hysterically-monotone delivery suggests Ali MacGraw phoning in a performance. Finally, the audience meets the sex-kitten simpleton Jennifer North (Melissa Christopher), who finds love with lounge singer Tony Polar (Ken Marino). When his handsome form is stricken by disease, Jennifer is driven to porn and suicide.

It would all be tragic, if it weren't so amusing.

The director, Tom Booker, and his collaborators, get tremendous comic mileage from the subtleties lost in a film-to-stage adaptation. On screen, a train passes, in an extreme long-shot, through a snowy landscape. In this production, a spot-lit stagehand drags a model train across the proscenium. His cohort follows, tossing cornflakes as snow.

At another inspired moment, Helen Lawson (Jackie Beat), an aging Broadway diva, sings her show-stopper amidst a Calder-esque mobile. On celluloid, the transparent, colored shapes dance magically around her, as if this sequence was the opening credits to a James Bond flick. In the adaptation, that hard-working stagehand holds the mobile aloft on a stick. Nearly losing his balance, he knocks it into Helen, the microphone stand, and everything in his path. The audience chortles, delighting in the absurdity.

The soap-opera plot is enacted at a break-neck pace, which adds levity to the melodrama. In the end, the self-centered, back-stabbing Nelly finds herself abandoned. In the harsh spotlight of futility, she cries out to the friends and lovers she has alienated. As the audience revels in her just-desserts, she falls to the floor sobbing her own name. The film, in its self-congratulatory seriousness, goes over the top. This production begins at the top and goes down the other side.

Theatre-A-Go!-Go!, the Los Angeles-based company responsible for this opus, has made a name for itself exploring the humorous angles of popular tragedies. Past productions have included Patty, Patty, Bang! Bang! The Patty Hearst Musical and Manson: The Musical. Producer Ron Delsener can also claim credit for The Real Live Brady Bunch, produced two seasons ago Off-Broadway.

At the Circle in the Square Downtown, banks of seats border three sides of a lounge area, where free-standing chairs are clustered around tables. This unique arrangement draws the audience into the production and is perfectly suited for an informal presentation such as Valley.

Reservations may be made through TicketMaster at (212) 307-4100. For additional information, please call the box office at (212) 254-6330. Please note, The Circle in the Square Theatre Downtown is an independent theatre, owned and operated by 159 Bleeker Corp.Valley of the Dolls is not a production of The Circle in the Square Theatre company.


I would be grateful to any Playbill On-Line's Off-Broadway fans who would like to contribute tips and insights, share theatrical experiences, or publicize interesting projects. My email address is I look forward to hearing from you.

-- By Kevin W. Reardon

Today’s Most Popular News: