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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Nothing wrong with being a whore, Kate. Wasn't even illegal at the time in Sydney. As you know. — Tilly
kate and jilly
L. Catherine Fries Vaughn R. Claire McClanahan (photo credit: A. Christopher Drukker)
If you had to name two famous women rivals of industry in the mid 20th century whose iconic image and imaging changed the way women would see and also present themselves, you would be right in naming Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. Their fight to be number one in the cosmetic industry and their self-perpetuated feud was used as the subject of a recent Broadway musical War Paint. New York was the turf.

But what has that got to do with Razorhurst the new musical now having its world premiere at Luna Stage? Here we are talking about Sidney, Australia, where we are in the company of a pair of uncompromisingly industrious but equally tough rivals more infamously defined as gangsters. Kate Leigh took control of the distribution of alcohol ("sly grog") after Sidney prohibited the selling of it after 6 pm. Kate also ran gambling parlors and sold cocaine. Tilly Devine took advantage of a loophole in the law that stated "No man can run a brothel," by operating a hugely successful chain of bordellos with many of her other illegal entrepreneurial endeavors overlapping into Kate's domain. Legends in their time to be sure, they are now back from the dead and singing, bitching and baiting each other for their own satisfaction but mainly for our amusement.

Kate Mulley (book & lyrics) and Andy Peterson (music) on commission from Luna Stage, have collaborated on a musical that is basically a long after death face-off between two female kingpins. Each had bad relationships with husbands and men in general. Each has the proverbial ax to grind as well as an actual razor to wield. Razors became the weapon of choice for the gangs and mobsters when Sidney made the carrying of guns illegal. What a bloody town!

A pair of big mouths with bigger egos born out of necessity, Tilly and Kate are given ample time and space to get their sad, sordid yet true stories on the record. They appear from the beyond in the present inside an upscale coffee shop in East Sidney named Razorhurst in commemoration of the razor era that coincided with what we called here at home "The Roaring Twenties."

The audience has the option to sit in tiered seating or at tables below in the cafe proper where the musical's two undeniably colorful characters meander and posture and presumably tell all in song and story. The bouncy and often raunchy score serves the integrity of the era as it propels Tilly and Kate to the end of their entertaining 90-minute visit. Claire McClanahan (Tilly) and Catherine Fries Vaughn (Kate) are good at defining personalities purposely written to resist our empathy or compassion. I suspect that future performances will find them putting even more muscle into their already excellent interpretations of these two essentially ruthless and brutal women.

Director Cheryl Katz does well by a staging that finds the players weaving through the tables and often volleying dialogue from opposite ends of the cafe. For the audience it is a little like watching a tennis match. McClanahan makes her mark and stands her ground as Tilly, a buxom blonde who is closer to a battleaxe than a bombshell. Although petite in stature, Vaughn has a mouth that roars and never lets her towering rival get the best of her. It a comedic and a clever match-up of types although neither remotely resembles their characters' real-life photos.

Deborah Caney's period costumes and Jorge Arroyos' lighting were also effective in creating a proper atmosphere for a pair of colorful criminals. Arrive early and you may purchase desserts and beverages to have at your table. No "sly grog" for sale.

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Razorhurst by Kate Mulley (Book & Lyrics) and Andy Peterson (Music)
Directed by Cheryl Katz
Musical Direction: Andy Peterson
Cast: Claire McClanahan (Tilly Devine), Catherine Fries Vaughn (Kate Leigh)
Set Design: Brian Dudkiewicz
Light Design: Jorge Arroyo
Stage Manager: Courtney Labossiere
Production Manager: Dan Viola
Running Time: 1 hour 30 minutes no intermission
Luna Stage Theatre Company, 55 Valley Road, West Orange, N.J.
Performances: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8 pm.
From 02/01/18 Opened 02/09/18 Ends 03/04/18
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 02/09/18

NJ Theaters
NJ Theatre Alliance
Discount Tix Information

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