The last time a Louise Roche musical visited the Kimmel Center's Innovation Studio, it was the sequel to Girls Night: The Musical, titled Girl Talk: The Musical, and it was awful. This time, we get the original, and there are several ways in which it is better. There are also several ways in which it is just as bad.
First, everyone scheduled to appear showed up, and their names are all listed in the program. Last time, there was no program, and Charo, along with two other actors, bailed on opening night. So that's something. Second, each of these Girls Night girls knows how to belt an inspirational pop song or purr a standard, and has memorized all her lines. That's also an improvement.
However, we're still stuck with director Sonya Carter, whose vision of an intimate conversation is one in which the women address the audience instead of one another. We're also stuck with Roche, who assembles the least supportive, most unsympathetic group of friends since Jersey Shore held its final casting call. But I have a theory about the success of this franchise: In much the same way a car wreck causes a gaper delay, Girls Night's plot gets bent into such fascinating contortions, it's hard not to watch.
Overseen by Sharon, a former teen mother and present angel (Tina Mallon) who received her wings after falling off a moped at 17 and dying, the girls gather to celebrate Sharon's now-22-year-old daughter's engagement. Joining the hilarity of that setup are twice-divorced Carol (Carrie Bonnell); Kate (Regina Ann Duke), Carol's little sister, bullied mercilessly by the whole gang; Liza (Jenna Paige Gagliardo), unhappily married and pregnant with a fourth child; and Anita (Maya Tepler), who suffers from bipolar disorder. Also, Sharon's daughter never shows up. I can hardly describe how sad it is to see women who sprung for the show's pink souvenir boas and tiaras sitting in the audience under these circumstances, their hopeful little red tiara lights blinking in the darkness.
In yet another audience insult, the cast, who all appear to be in their 20s, play 40-year-olds. But if nothing else, these actors commit to what's been given, even if it means publicly deodorant-spraying a crotch (twice), discussing the viscosity of "discharge" or wearing Shaun Motley's universally ill-fitting costumes.
For comparison, Lena Dunham's new HBO series Girls can get away with that kind of thing because she's smart, funny, and can craft a story. Girls Night's women, at least the ones offstage, have proven - twice now - that while their characters sing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," they could stand to learn another tune: "R-E-S-P-E-C-T."