Song Insights: 'The Ladies Who Lunch', COMPANY
Look into their eyes and you'll see what they know...thanks to our next Song Insight.
Musical Director Joel Fram joins us once again to dissect this song, Marianne Elliott's staging of it, and the "complex set of causes and effects" that result from keeping Bobbie active in the number.
Joel Fram: In other versions of this show that I have seen, this iconic number often boils down to a special 'solo turn' for Joanne. The people around her freeze, the club disappears, Joanne moves downstage to confront the audience. But Marianne made this amazing decision to keep the number in the world of the club.
It comes out of a scene between Joanne, Larry and Bobbie - and Marianne decided to make the song an extension of that first part of the scene.
What effect does that have? It keeps Bobbie and Larry active in the number - it means "The Ladies Who Lunch" is part of a conversation, a conversation that starts out fairly jovially, but becomes more pointed and more aggressive as the evening drunkenly progresses.
And that means that "The Ladies Who Lunch" is now directly related to Larry's confrontation with Joanne and the climactic confrontation between Joanne and Bobbie that follows immediately after.
When the number starts, Joanne is taking Bobbie on a virtual 'tour' of the women she despises. By keeping the song in the reality of the club and an extension of their previous scene, we understand that there is a sort of 'us and them' dynamic going on - the women whom they look down upon, and Joanne and Bobbie in their own private 'club' of two.
But because in this version Bobbie is still active and involved, she's also in the line of fire. There's a terrifying moment where Joanne sets her sights on Bobbie. In the audience, you often hear gasps. "And here's to the girls who just watch...aren't they the best?"
You suddenly realize that maybe Bobbie isn't in the cool club after all - maybe she too is about to be a target, that in some part of Joanne's mind she despises Bobbie for her choices, her inertia - her refusal to get involved.
And Joanne gives it to her - in public, which only adds to the sense of shock and discomfort. And that of course spills over into the final confrontation that leads ultimately to Bobbie's great epiphany: "Being Alive".
Was that Joanne's endgame?
By keeping both the song and the scene in the reality of the club, Marianne has created a beautifully complex set of causes and effects - but ultimately she has left Joanne's motives purposefully ambiguous. I think the members of our audience get to decide for themselves.
Photo credit: Brinkhoff/Moegenbur, Tristram Kenton