by Monica Charline Brown
In the late, late hours of Friday, April 22, Broadway’s favorite supper club, Feinstein’s/54 Below, presented The Girls in White: Songs from the Show. Featuring a book and lyrics by Michael Bradley, music by Artie Sievers, and direction by Ashley Brooke Monroe, it was a rip-roaring and star-studded concert. This was the first appearance of the material since a workshop in the fall. I am sure it must have been the apple of every person in the audience’s eye that night.
The Girls in White takes place in a post-depression era Texas. Based on a true story, the musical centers around six incarcerated women. These mixed and matched characters gather their talents, decide to become a band, and gain fame overnight via a prison radio program. With true rags to riches fate, the sweethearts imagine life beyond being behind bars. Rightfully depicted as Chicago meets Orange is the New Black, The Girls in White, at its core, educes optimism and reclamation.
Lights up are on six stunning young women singing blue grass a cappella in tight harmony. Stomping their jaunty boots to the opening number, “The Girls in White/One Way Wagon,” they immediately have the audience wrapped around their pinky fingers. Two-time Tony award winner Michael Cerveris takes over the mic, crooning in a heavy twang to the earthy vibes the heavy fiddle is throwing down. “I Did It Cuz I Had To,” an ode to “He Had It Coming” from Chicago, is quirkily and spunkily delivered by the six gals – Sydney Blaxill (The Nomad), Haley Jones (A Complex Evening), Rebecca Knowles (Pinwheel), Bonnie Milligan (Kinky Boots), and Lauren Patten (Fun Home). One of the many highlights in the evening, the upbeat and campy tune, balanced out with a healthy dose of the blues, explained how the ladies fate winded up in the penitentiary.
Brittane Rowe (The Mysteries) in “After Midnight” and Jacqueline Petroccia (Always…Patsy Cline) in “Great Big World” used their big voices to pour their hearts into their respective ballads. Ryan McCurdy (Once), who doubled on guitar throughout the night, sang the spirited radio show theme song, “Behind the Wall,” while Artie Sievers, who is also the composer, featured his accordion skills. Michael Cerveris (Fun Home) envisaged the dreams of his character, Captain Heath, in “I Wanna Be A Cowboy,” even inviting the audience to sing along with him towards the end of the tune.
Lauren Patten’s strong presence and soulful, commanding voice stood out in “We’ll Do a Little Singin’,” a song where she calls her fellow inmates to action with her personality and power alto. The other five girls patter along, and one of them even joked between songs with a silly Hamilton reference…“they are not throwin’ away their shot!” Then, all six girls joined in for “Ridin’ That Train.” My, oh my, the energy and spark each girl possessed individually, combined with their picture perfect harmonies as a group, made the number a knockout.
Adding back Michael Cerveris and Jacqueline Petroccia for “Oh My Lord,” the energy finally died down for a little bit, but the intensity rode high again as Bonnie Milligan went in for her solo. As “Cocaine Nora Harris,” an older inmate, Milligan made her news known to the starry-eyed newcomers about what life would be like after prison. Josh Davis’s “On Bended Knee” is a charmingly idiosyncratic attempt to win back his girl in jail. Brittane Rowe’s “I Don’t Mind” and Ben Estus’s “Her” pay ode to the more contemporary musical theatre flair of the night.
The entire company yodeled their way through “Rodeo Queen,” another plucky group number, achieving the audience’s claps and yodels along the way. The six ladies had yet another star turn with the sentimental, “The Man I Love,” and no, not the Gershwin standard. Ephie Aardema had a “Somewhere That’s Green” moment from Little Shop of Horrors with the song, “Disappear,” a wistful ballad that showcased her tender side and her extraordinary emotional and vocal range. Lauren Patten joined Ephie Aardema in the duet, “Always You.” It was a beautiful union of two young actresses committed to their circumstances and more importantly, to each other.
The “Finale” was just that: an impressive wall of sound that builds and builds and builds. Erikka Walsh, on the violin, should not be left out in the excitement of the evening. Looking forward to seeing where the future of The Women in White lies. The theatre community had better keep an eye out for them!