Review: Arts Club Theatre Company's "Bittergirl: The Musical"

Review: Arts Club Theatre Company’s “Bittergirl: The Musical”

I had heard really great things about Bittergirl: The Musical. After Arts Club mounted the production for a touring show earlier this year, there was a lot of talk about this “howlingly funny show about getting over getting dumped.” Having gone through a breakup myself this spring, I looked forward to reveling in the characters’ misery. It does love company– that’s what people keep saying at least.

The play itself was written by a trio of writers all dealing with respective points on the heartbreak spectrum. It makes sense that this would translate into a poignant piece of art that would resonate with audiences. Surely most of us have split with a partner, and most of us have lived through at least one breakup that’s been inherently messy. Ultimately, Bittergirl is effective, but it also feels clumsy and forced at times, jamming together classic music and a universal theme in a clunky manner that makes you wonder why exactly these two forces were put together in the first place.

On paper, taking monster hits from the ‘60s and ‘70s that everyone knows seems like great fodder for a jukebox musical. When you get a string of songs like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “Be My Baby”, and “Where Did Our Love Go”, it seems like a dazzling way to connect with audiences. All of the music of Bittergirl consists of songs most generations are familiar with enough to hum along to, so it should be an easy fit paired with the humourous, relatable subject matter.

Katrina Reynolds, Cailin Stadnyk, and Lauren Bowler in Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Bittergirl: The Musical. All photography by Emily Cooper.

Yet somehow it still falls a bit flat. Perhaps it’s that you can tell the deep soul and emotion of the original artists isn’t present. It almost feels a bit sacrilegious to have beloved soul songs reduced to glitzy Broadway fodder. Don’t get me wrong, I love musical theatre, but sometimes certain genres just shouldn’t be brought to this type of stage at all if this is how it ends up.

The pacing of Bittergirl is strange but intriguing. It’s less of a cohesive, linear narrative and more of a series of vignettes strung together to connect the corresponding songs. This works much better in the second half when there’s a bit more of a noticeable story arc and you see the characters finally begin to develop beyond the flat, broken hearted static characters that appear at the start of the show. It’s only then when we see the cast begin to emote and grow that things get interesting. Sadly, these realizations and changes happen too close to the end of the final act.

Cast wise, Bittergirl is a knockout, featuring a trio of dazzling performers who perfectly embody the various stages of a recently broken up with ex. Whether they’re laughing it off over martinis at the bar, drunkenly harassing their recent ex outside his home, or crying in each others’ arms, all of these different stages embody points we’ve all experienced. The connection between cast and audience was all too real during the show.

Katrina Reynolds and Josh Epstein in Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Bittergirl: The Musical. All photography by Emily Cooper.

The standout among the three was Lauren Bowler as A, who should be applauded for her brilliant ability to ping-pong between traumatized and scorned to sloppy drunk to genuinely heartbroken within a split second between the varying realms. Really though, there wasn’t a weak link with the casting. All three leads are dynamic performers who command the stage. The only problem with that is having to decide who to watch when they’re all belting it out simultaneously.

Ultimately, Bittergirl should be seen as a spectacular concert of great songs with some less enjoyable writing in between. Sadly, you can’t always have it both ways. And in the case of Bittergirl the sum of its parts is not greater than the individual elements here. Bittergirl is entertaining as hell and a lot of fun. But sometimes you just want a little bit more.

Main image:  Katrina Reynolds, Lauren Bowler, and Cailin Stadnyk in Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Bittergirl: The Musical. All photography by Emily Cooper.

Bittergirl: The Musical:Written by Annabel Fitzsimmons, Alison Lawrence, and Mary Francis Moore, with Music Supervision, Arrangements, and Orchestrations by Bob Foster. Directed and Choreographed by Valerie Easton.

Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Bittergirl: The Musical runs through July 29, 2017 at The Granville Island Stage.

Tickets are available here.