Swamp Donkey Musical Theatre Society is bringing a coming-of-age comedy-drama musical to southwest Rocky View County this week, with its fall production, Vanities: The Musical.
The Bragg Creek-based musical theatre company’s production centres on the lives and growing pains of three Texas cheerleaders in the 1960s and 1970s. The play will run Oct. 28 to 30 and Nov. 4 to 6 at the society's headquarters at 16 White Avenue.
Cast member Melanie Baux said the show starts off in the year 1963, when the three friends are in the heyday of their high school years. The second scene of the storyline then carries through to the trio’s college days in 1968, when they are in the same sorority.
Baux said the play’s dialogue focuses on some of the social issues that existed at the time.
“They talk about some of the protests, the death of the president in Dallas, sorority issues, how women are wanting more freedom and less restriction,” she said.
After remission, the audience is transported to 1974 in New York, to a scene culminating in the dissolution of the young adults’ friendship after having grown apart during the disco era.
“These three female characters are 28 to 29 years old [at this point] and have gone very different ways, so they’ve gone very different directions in their lives with different beliefs – and it causes some conflict,” Baux stated.
The final scene of the production jumps to the year 1990, when the three former friends meet up once again and find some common ground, according to Baux.
She added the music of the production is designed to suit each era, to transport the audience through time.
“The really cool thing is the composer has written the music to suit each of the styles, so in 1968, it sounds like Austin Powers – it’s just that disco retro kind of feel,” she said. “So, it’s pretty cool.”
She said the show also touches on some mature themes, including some mild language and as such comes with a PG-13 rating – a first, for Swamp Donkey Musical Theatre.
“This is the only show we’ve done that has a rating on it because it has some mild language and talks about smoking,” Baux said. “It’s nothing overt, it’s just when you’re discussing issues in that span of time, there’s a lot of things that come up.”
Baux said the production features a small cast of just three actors, including herself, Trisha Gizen, (the founder and president of Swamp Donkey), and fellow actor Melissa Jackson.
“It’s been a really special show because it’s just the three of us working on it and we’re on stage the entire time,” she said. “We don’t even get to leave stage to change, that’s how the show is written.”
She added a song that repeats each act accompanies the transition between each scene, but its theme changes with the times.
“The first one talks about make-up, lipstick, and those kinds of things, and then it moves to CoverGirl and Revlon, and then to Gucci and Pucci, and Laura Ashley,” she said.
“The final scene talks about hair dye and stretch marks and glasses, as we’ve progressed through our lives.”
According to the actor, the production company usually tries to do smaller-scale productions in the fall because their spring production often features a large cast. This season’s spring production will be Beauty and the Beast. The play will run May 5 to 7 and May 12 to 14, 2023.
Baux said when searching for a script for their fall production, Swamp Donkey Musical Theatre’s all-female creative team was looking for a show that would highlight their experiences as women.
“We were looking at quite a few shows and we kind of stumbled upon Vanities,” she said. “It’s a show that is not really well-known.”
The play, originally written by Jack Heifner in the 1970s, was better known in the late 1980s, according to Baux.
“It’s a unique show because it’s a small cast and it was off-Broadway, and it was rewritten a couple of times ... I think it’s not as well known,” she said.
“So, we kind of dug in and thought, ‘Yeah, we could do it.'
"It’s really a beast for three people to do a show, but it’s worth it. It’s definitely the hardest show I’ve personally ever done.”
While men are of course encouraged to check out the play, she added the production would make for a perfect girls' night out, as the Vanities story is all about female friendships.
“…I think that you could watch it and kind of go on that journey and it just kind of gives you the warm fuzzies,” she said.
“It’s just nice to see a full journey. It’s not all good, it’s not all bad. It’s just kind of real.”
There will also be a special dinner theatre production in partnership with Wild Texan BBQ and the Ladies Auxiliary in Cochrane on Nov. 5.
“They’re doing a dinner theatre as a fundraiser, so you can go and do your Texas dinner and then come see the Texas cheerleaders,” she said with a laugh.
Additional cast members include Mackenzie Walsh, stage manager; Gordon Baux, sound technician; Aubrey Baux, director; and Jennifer Lightfoot, set designer.
Those interested in purchasing tickets for the Bragg Creek production are encouraged to visit showpass.com