Katia Cardenas, Amanda Thomm, Becka Linder, and Laura Mahler.
Photo by Scott Pakudaitis
As AC/DC so deftly put it, it is a long way to the top if you want to rock 'n' roll. For women, that journey has often been tougher.
Producers, managers, and promoters have always looked at musicians as commodities. Men were typically judged for their musical talent. Women, on the other hand, were either about pretty faces or good voices. There was no space for those who wanted to showcase their talents as musicians and songwriters.
That's the crux of girl group , the rough-around-the-edges new work by Carol Critchley, presented as the final piece in Theatre Unbound's 13th season. Director Rebecca Rizzio
and a cast of seven bring us this cautionary tale, centered on four friends who just want to rock, but instead get ground up by the music machine. It's the stories of the Furies, a fictional group gigging around the Northeastern United States in the middle 1950s.
Led by Flo (Becky Linder), the quartet has found some minor success, including a recent tour of the U.K. where they were greeted as budding superstars. Buoyed by the success and desperate to move up the ladder, bassist Cecy (Katia Cardenas) invites slimy manager Renny (Edward Linder) to check out the band. Flo has history with him and would prefer the Furies to soldier on without Renny's "help."
She's outvoted, and the band quickly loses control. At their first recording session, they discover that they won't be playing their music. Instead, they'll just be backup vocalists, while session musicians and vocalist LaVern Monroe (Channing Jones) do the "work."
Flo snaps and storms out, taking fun-loving Winnie (Laura Mahler) with her. Cecy remains, along with Flo's young and naive sister Ruby (Amanda Kay Thomm). The Furies go on to have several sugar-coated hits and take to the tour circuit, though they are playing to prerecorded tracks along the way.
Flo and Winnie stick it out, but it's a tough road -- especially when fun-loving Winnie turns into drugged-out Winnie in the narcotics-soaked late 1960s.
The back half of the play charts the course of both halves of the band. To put it simply: it doesn't include any time at the top of the charts. The hard feelings from the 1965 session extend for decades, as we see that played out painfully each time any of the characters find themselves in each others' company.
The script is a bit messy at present, with some ideas underdeveloped while others stretch on for too long. Critchley also introduces a real absurd streak late in the proceedings -- Cecy crashes the "We Are the World" session, for example -- that could have been infused into the entire show.
The main quartet feel like a band from the beginning, and they are able to rock out a few numbers before the real world intercedes and stops all the fun. Linder is especially good as the hard-edged and driven Flo.
IF YOU GO:
Saturday through April 28
The Lowry Lab Theater
350 St. Peter St., St. Paul
For tickets and information, call 612.721.1186 or visit online.