What draws you towards directing light-hearted musicals, and specifically, Bittergirl: The Musical?
Valerie Easton (director,choreographer): I am attracted to all different kinds of musicals, but I particularly like the cleverness of this script. It has within it some universal thoughts that a variety people seem to share. I also like the fact that the material is treated the way that it’s written. [In regards to musicals being presented in Vancouver], we’re getting some very funny writing happening right now and that makes theatre enjoyable. I also think people enjoy being able to look at themselves. In this musical, people can see themselves in the way some of the scenarios in the show are carried out.
Doo-wop girl-group music from the 60s serves as the backdrop to this work. Why is this music so appropriate for the story itself?
VE: If you think about the 1950s, most of the singers at that time were men. When the 60s rolled around—think The Supremes or the The Ronettes—it became somewhat of a “girl-powered” time. I think that’s what makes this particular musical. Although it’s not set in the 60s, it’s this decade’s themes that are related to and happening in the scene. And you know, they are just such great songs. They are so universal that even young people recognize these songs too. It was such a great era of women empowerment in the music industry. And the thing is, even if you didn’t know the songs from the era that they were in, they’re now so commonly used and recognizable. They’re catchy and you’ll know them.
Do you think that the bitterness felt after the breakups is something that’s pretty universal?
VE: I think so, though the girls’ breakups are more exaggerated then perhaps what they were. It’s their view of how the guys acted towards them. It’s the bitterness of being left that I think that we can all look at ourselves through this sense of humour. It’s not that they are bitter towards men in general, but a frustration over losing yet another boyfriend. They are looking forward to “when will it be the real thing?” and “When will I have the perfect relationship?” They are able to show the humourous way that they must deal with their break-up. It’s sort of, in a way, one-sided, but we also try to show that the guy has a sensitive side as well. It’s not always him being “that guy” sort of thing. It’s a lot of fun. There are so many funny parts in this musical. It’s full humour especially when you can see yourself in one of the characters, whether the guy or the girl.
Is there something that you have done specifically to put your signature on this musical?
VE: I like the choreography to follow the storyline and tie into the dialogue. I suppose every choreographer has a “look”—I’d say that mine is story-driven. It’s pretty much how I go about any show that I do.
What excites you most about directing this production?
VE: This is such a fantastic cast: Cailin Stadnyk, Lauren Bowler, Katrina Reynolds and Josh Epstein (who plays the ladies’ three different partners in the musical). All of them are just such amazing singers and very talented actors. That excites me. I like going into a piece where I know I’ve got great people who I know can bring the story to life. I enjoy the creative process of seeing how we’re going to make things work and having them embody the piece the way that it’s supposed to be with humour, clear direction, and creativity.
What do you anticipate as being the most challenging aspect of touring this show?
VE: Normally, any show that I’ve done usually has a run (say at The Stanley or on Granville Island) and then you take it on our tour. This show starts on tour so we don’t have a home for more than 1 or 2 nights, which is hard because you’re just doing a couple of nights in one theatre and then picking up and moving to another theatre. The challenges are that you have different groups of people, you’re in different areas, different theatres, [asking yourself] how does this feel, how does this work in this space? It’s going to be interesting, but it’s also going to be really fun.
Any breakup advice you think audiences will come away with after seeing Bittergirl?
VE: The musical itself is more of a universal illustration of how breakups are handled. Instead of a list of what to do (or good advice), you might instead get a list of what not to do! [laughs]. At one point one of the girls goes to gets a bag of chips and a bottle of wine, one of them is a fanatic cleaner so she is cleaning through her breakup, and another one is a workaholic who is just running all over the place. They are all in their own separate worlds and we can relate to them all.
Describe the show in just three words.
VE: Fun, laughter, light-hearted.
Valerie Easton has choreographed for Arts Club, Western Canada Theatre, the Gateway, TUTS, Studio 58, and Bard on the Beach. National credits include Sunshine Theatre, The Citadel, University of Saskatchewan, and the Neptune. Selected directing credits: Mack and Mable, A Chorus Line, Joseph, and Cabaret (Showcase Festival), The Thing about Men (Presentation House and the Arts Club On Tour), Legally Blonde (TUTS), A Christmas Story, Red Rock Diner (Arts Club). Artistic Director, Royal City Musical Theatre.