The Vanity, A Perfect Title

I am just going to start this off by saying that this “show” was one of the worst, most painful experiences that I have ever sat through. The writing was so bad in fact that the only way it could have been produced is as a self-production, which it was. I generally hate self-productions, as they tend to be awful. This is because in those cases there is often no one to tell the writer when there is an issue or the writer just doesn’t listen. In this case the same person was the producer, book writer, lyricist and composer.

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The show claims to be inspired by The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I’m not entirely sure the writer read the source material. If he did he certainly didn’t understand the point. For those who don’t know, The Picture of Dorian Gray is perhaps the most well executed and best literary commentary of a culture obsessed with youth, beauty and pleasure to the exclusion of morality and goodness. It tells the story of a young man who is heralded as being the most beautiful young man to ever walk the face of the earth. When his portrait is painted by one of the most famous artists of the day he wishes that it were possible for his portrait to age instead of him so that he could stay eternally young and beautiful. He is drawn into a world of hedonistic pleasure, destroying the lives of many around him and ultimately his own soul. As he wished would happen all of his sins show up in the portrait and he remains eternally beautiful until, realizing he has destroyed his own soul, he stabs his portrait, killing himself in the process.

The Vanity on the other hand, set in 1947 Hollywood – a seemingly perfect setting to update this tale (the only good decision the writer made,) follows the story of Julian Gray, who we come to learn is a distant relative of Dorian’s. He receives a vanity from Dorian, which holds the spirit of Dorian Gray in the mirror. From as much of the story as I could follow, it appears Dorian has become a demon who can escape his prison in the mirror by convincing Julian to sell his soul for eternal youth. It is later revealed that Julian has to commit sins in order for the curse to take full effect and allow Dorian to escape. But whereas the original was a brilliant commentary on the dangers of hedonism and the worship of youth, The Vanity seemed to be expanding on magical true love verses pleasure. The deal that is struck makes Julian give up his one true love, Stella, (a pathetic stand in for the heart breaking plot line in the original surrounding Dorian’s first love Sibyl Vane,) for his youth and beauty. By the end of the story they end up together AND Julian gets to keep his youth and beauty. There is no consequence for any of the main characters.

I feel the need to list some of the particularly terrible moments and production decisions in the show. Let’s start with one of the big ones; Julian Gray is supposed to be the most attractive man alive. The actor they hired, while very handsome and talented, was not the most attractive man on the stage, making it almost comic anytime someone commented on his looks. On the flip side the person who was the most attractive man on stage was kept in a cloak, and a fright wig and forced to act like a lunatic for the first half of the show. Once he revealed himself as the demon Dorian Gray he was both the most attractive and the best actor on stage. During the first act he was used too much and I wanted him to go away, but in the second act he was underutilized and I kept waiting for him to come back.

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The dream ballet at the top of act 2 was not only poorly executed but also very confusing. We see a character get electrocuted but have no context for why. Does he die? Is he getting shock therapy? Is he being executed by the state? Why is he being executed by the state? We just don’t know. And we didn’t find out for another 20 minutes and even then it was unclear and confusing.

The character that introduces Dorian to the hedonistic life seemed to be split into two characters in this show, one being a Hollywood director in his prime and the other his aging wife. She was portrayed as someone who seemed in their late 60s, where as he was in his 30s. While he is supposed to be married to an older woman who is playing ingénues way past her prime, it would have made far more sense if she had been in her late 40s. This decision made no sense and was one of many things that was indicative of the main problem of the show. Was this a farce or a serious drama?

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On the farce side, we had over acting such as English panto-esque characters and every male character being portrayed with a flavor of homosexuality, (not including the character that actually was gay); many comments that winked at the audience such as references to other shows, borderline-offensive feminist jokes, all around bad puns; and one character dying by falling into a chair. On the serious drama side, we had a deadly serious score (there was nothing funny in that music, except how bad it was,) the earnest attitude within all the scenes (they may have had farcical moments but always treated them very earnestly,) and they length of time between farcical moments.

Speaking of music, the accompaniment sounded like bad 1980s prerecorded tracks. I was shocked to learn that it was being played live. This was quite impressive, as I didn’t know it was possible for live music to sound like that. I am also very impressed that a band could play this music at all.

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The one shining light that got me through the evening was the actress that played Stella, Rosalie Burke. Burke managed to humanize not only her character, but everyone she had scene work with. In her songs she made notes, which would normally be prerecorded in The Phantom of the Opera, sound warm and full. Her acting choices were always intelligent and natural.

The two ensemble tracks, played by Remy Germinario and Kate Hoover were also saving graces. Intentionally comic relief, they actually made us laugh in between the terrible puns the rest of the cast had to say.

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I feel I can’t really comment about the direction of the show as it felt that most of the problems were with the material.

There are some shows that are so bad that they are fantastic and you enjoy them in their awfulness. This show was not one of them.

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