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May 27, 2024
Wine, Women and Songs
Winesday: The Wine Tasting Musical

It’s estimated that there are over 5 million people who belong to book clubs and 80% of the participants are women. Some of the clubs are organized and have a paid leader while others are more informal. Some organize themes around their selections and include activities, field trips, and special foods. Other groups begin to discuss the book but drift off into more personal topics. The five plucky women who meet in “Winesday: The Wine Tasting Musical” at the Theatre Center begin as a book group.

Acknowledging that no one is reading the book in the first scene, they change their focus each month (or in this case each scene.) They try yoga, then tap and finally just make it wine tasting since that’s what they've been doing all along. Each scene is paired with a wine.

The audience is invited to drink along with them and is offered alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks during every scene break. Introducing each ‘wine’ is the wine steward, played by the energetic Michael Valvo, who reminded me of the comic who warms up the studio audience. His descriptions incorporate real ‘wine speak’ with personality traits ( like one wine having the ‘’undertones of bitterness.”)

As the scenes progress, the audience gets a sense of each of the five women and their specific issues. All the meetings take place in the home of Winter (Debra Thais Evans), a writer who, after her first successful novel, is suffering from writer's block. So she has a writing ‘guru’ staying with her and we quickly realize that he’s taking advantage of her, stealing her wine and eventually her money. The premise is silly as are the guru’s suggestions.

Each actress has a spotlight song. Dawn Cantwell plays a militant woman who is actively protesting - everything. In her song, the women don their pink pussy hats. Jennifer Diamond is Sam, who seems to have the perfect life. She sings wishing that her kindergartener could have a part in the Christmas play. Shannen Hofheimer's song is about Barney, her dog, that she wants to bring with her on her world travels.

It seems unlikely that many in the audience could identify with the women's uninspiring backstories or even care about them.

The most endearing is Amanda Lea LaVerge as the naive one searching for a boyfriend. In each scene she sings about finding the "Perfect” guy. Almost each time, there’s something terribly wrong with him. Desperate, she’s willing to overlook these flaws. The songs (music by Joseph Benoit and lyrics by Jenne Wason who also wrote the book) are cute. But save for the Perfect song mostly unmemorable.

The action centers around Winter’s couch but the theater has seating on three sides. For the first half, we sat on the left side but rarely did the actresses face us. Director Jamibeth Margolis should have worked with the performers to have some of them facing the sides of the theater to include the entire audience.

Whether it is learning yoga, discussing a book or whatever, the five are there as friends and that's the strength of the group of women. They came together with a gimmick (and that’s what “Winesday” does as well- offering its audience drinks.) The women don’t really need an excuse to be together but maybe the audience does.

The Jerry Orbach Theater
at The Theater Center
210 West 50 Street
New York, NY

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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