Tuesday, July 02, 2019

The Bachelor Girls

Kristen Egenes, Laura Hall, Kathleen Culler, Kelly Berman, Gia Mongell, Timmy Hays, Emma Vielbig, Lucy Anders, Brittany Rodin, Emily Kersey, Mandy McDonell. Photo: Shoshana Medney

The Bachelor Girls (book, music and lyrics by Caroline Wigmore and Jen Green) is one of nine theatrical works (eight shows and a high school showcase), created by women, featured in the fourth annual She NYC Arts Summer Theater Festival at The Connelly Theater on June 28 and 29, and the only musical. While the piece’s plot and characters progress unevenly at times, the show features standout performances and often a witty score.

The premise intrigues: three British friends graduate from a woman’s college in 1919, just as the concept of the ‘modern girl’ is developing. Because of World War I — and the lives lost — the women are told that only 1 in 10 will get married. The graduates venture to London: Molly (Kelly Berman) takes care of her Aunt Smythe (Tracy Bidleman) while waiting to wed, Gertie (Lucy Anders) fights for women’s rights and Cecily (Lael Van Keuren) works as a nanny.

The title comes from an actual book published in 1916, The Bachelor Girl’s Guide to Everything by Agnes M. Miall, which a teacher gifts to the co-eds at the show’s beginning. This world of flappers where women want careers, equal voting rights and pay equity offers a rich forum for heroic battles and character development. Unfortunately, the book still needs work as plotlines propel forward almost capriciously — so the show never gels like it could. In one scene, for instance, Molly and Gertie rescue Cecily from a graveyard, and it is never apparent how they even knew she was there. Such gaps pepper the musical and hinder character development, making the insights and growth the girls gather often unbelievable.

More thought-out is the role of Aunt Smythe, and Bidleman (Mrs. Harcourt in the national/international tour Anything Goes) shines in the best musical number of the show, "Bright Young Thing" — a showy romp worthy of Broadway at its best. Also good is Van Keuren (Broadway’s Sister Act) who displays a sweet earnestness in her yearning for romance and her difficulty in finding a place in the world.

In general, the 1920s style music and dance enlivens The Bachelor Girls. The choreography (Heather Douglas) is high-spirited and fun. The Bachelorette trio (Caitlyn Calfas, Maria Reginaldi and Stephanie Maloney), an Andrews Sisters type singing group, acts as a scatting/jazzy Greek chorus throughout the show — providing a nice addition to the drama unfolding on stage. Too bad their role isn’t more explanatory though — often they just provide background music rather than helping move the story forward. The show's second song, "Shimmy & Shake," touting the benefits of those activities set the high-stepping tone for the show.

The She NYC Arts Summer Theater Festival is a festival that seeks to develop full-length plays, musicals, and adaptations by women writers. Through an open submissions process, She NYC’s fosters up-and-coming talent by mentoring writers in how to produce their work. The yearly festival is in New York ( and Los Angeles (see The Bachelor Girls was also produced by British Youth Music Theatre in 2015. (Press ticket)

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