Circle Theater delves into new territory, world-premiering a musical about older women off on their own exploring adventure and identity in The BOOB Girls. BOOB, as you may have already heard, means Burned Out Old Broads. But these four women are far from burned out. If anything, they still hope to have some hot times. And they have them.
In 13 original songs written by Mark Kurtz, in fact, most of these leading ladies sing with excellent voices, equal to anyone of any age. The performances of all four stay convincing and appealing, never influenced by some of the other players bent on being cartoons.
Director Fran Sillau keeps the whole thing moving with vitality and charm, but the script by him and Kurtz meanders, becoming more bewildering than amusing as it moves on, especially in the lengthy second act. It’s based on one of eight books by Omaha’s Joy Johnson.
The opening night audience had a great time. That makes sense, given that there seemed to have been many Joy Johnson fans, especially women, who would know her books and can relate to them.
Maggie, Mary Rose, Hadley and Robbie live in a retirement home. They are certainly not retiring. Curious and adventuresome, they take a yoga class, then decide to get somewhat shy Mary Rose a complete make-over. And they delight in peeking at local male resident Wiley, hanging out nude in the laundry room. Then, when Hadley decides to cash in a bundle from her savings, they set off on a road trip. At a disreputable truck stop they remain for a while to help the owner and his staff deal with a few crises. Edgy Maggie also gets involved with tough guy Fred, staying at a nearby campsite. And they go for a cruise after intentionally trying to embarrass customers in a porn shop.
Other plot lines emerge. Hadley’s son hires people to have her declared incompetent so as to make sure her money will be his. This means that she is always shadowed by sneaky Natalie. And there’s also a serious recurring theme about Maggie’s estranged gay son.
Clearly a lot goes on, sometimes frantic, rarely pausing for reflection on aging and femininity, in an elemental set, with a few basic props and seemingly random curtain closures, making the staging look more utilitarian than inventive. Six supporting cast members take on 12 roles, most of which feel generic. Yet, they do create a sense of a jolly ensemble.
Kurtz wrote appealing songs in a pop idiom which, cleverly, would have been current when the women were younger. He’s got a blues or two, a tango and a square dance. Cheery stuff without any gentle ballads. He’s offstage playing the piano along with an unidentified, unseen drummer.
Phyllis Mitchell-Butler as Robbie shines with personality and vitality. Among the other performers, J. Isaiah Smith stands out with exceptional vocal style as hairdresser Peyton. Joe Mendick also sings with class as Johnny Wray, involved in the scheme to keep Hadley out of circulation. And Dave Wingert’s Wiley adds appeal.
Given that this is the debut of the show, should it keep going, it will certainly be modified, trimmed and better focused. This looks like a good start.
The BOOB Girls, The Musical plays through July 30, Jewish Community Center, 333 S. 132nd St. Fri. ,Sat.: 7 p.m. Sun.: 2 p.m. Tickets: $25. http://www.circletheatreomaha.org/