Valley of the Dolls | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Valley of the Dolls

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VALLEY OF THE DOLLS, Sweetback Productions, at the SweetCorn Playhouse. Having accomplished Scarrie--The Musical and Joan Crawford Goes to Hell, Sweetback now delivers its own Valley of the Dolls, a tabloid-lurid saga of three fortune huntresses who pay a "price for a precious place on the mountain peak" of success. Jacqueline Susann's smarmy novel titillated readers with the deathstyles of the rich and famous, and the laughable 1967 film--on which Timothy James-O'Brien has based his wicked homage--brought Patty Duke to a career nadir. Only classy Susan Hayward, playing a veteran Broadway star with no drug habit and a big heart, escaped with her dignity intact. Yet director Mark Robson took the film seriously at the time--it's a worthy target for Sweetback's killer camp.

At 100 minutes and two acts, this is long for a late-night show; true-believing trash collectors should be happy to lose the sleep, however: Kelly Anchors and Steve Hickson's staging revels in wretched overkill. David Cerda's Jacqueline Susann is a narrow-minded broad with the charisma of a backhoe. Tracy Repep--who made a carnivorous Joan Crawford--repeats her manic mannerisms as Anne Welles, a vaporous secretary who becomes a glamour girl in a hilarious spoof of 60s grooviness. Brian Kalz tackles suicidal starlet Jennifer North with pill-popping passion. And as dope fiend Neely (based on Judy Garland), James-O'Brien is almost too much of a bad thing. Better the restraint of Hickson, whose Broadway diva exudes star quality even after Neely flushes her wig down the crapper. That's class.

--Lawrence Bommer

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