All may be fair in love and war, but there's something unseemly about hoping one will let you forget the pain of the other.
"Girlfriends," a musical that purports to celebrate the contribution of Great Britain's Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War II, is more preoccupied with the sticky situations that ensue when the women begin to fight over being a particular airman's lover.
The airman, Guy (Adam Cooley), is quite willing to go into combat, but he's afraid to own up to the fact that he started fooling around with Louise (Lynn Audrey Neal) because her best friend broke his heart. Which leads to his buddy's advice that he can't just wait for the seemingly inevitable way out:
I'm just concerned that you'll regret
The whole affair
There'll be a scene
And you'll be blamed, Guy
And what will happen if we don't die?
Those lyrics are part of "The Real War," an earnest song that rather absurdly chronicles three simultaneous conversations on the Royal Air Force base where the musical is set. As the guys -- and in "Girlfriends," there are only two -- discuss the merits of confession vs. death, Louise and her friend Amy (Angela Diane Brown) unleash the claws in a verbal catfight ("You had your chance, but you said no / You let him go") while the rest of the WAAFs graphically try to talk sense into a sudden objector among them ("We have to kill, blood must spill, or else we'll all die").
Written and scored by British composer Howard Goodall, "Girlfriends" is being staged at Arlington National Cemetery's Women in Military Service for America Memorial as part of the 100-day America Celebrates the Greatest Generation tribute. But Goodall's musical is less a deferential portrait of the pioneering women who volunteered to serve their country than a soap opera about jealousy, friendship and falling for someone whose life is at risk.
"Girlfriends' " biggest problem, however, is that it doesn't even play up the love angle very well. Goodall, who's perhaps best known for composing the theme song to "Mr. Bean," uses precious little dialogue to tell his disjointed story. The plot isn't so much developed as rendered in highlights: Guy asks about Amy, Guy and Amy are in love, Guy's suddenly kissing Louise. In between, the WAAFs fret about the war's casualties or about being treated like servants -- not to mention their unflattering uniforms. Despite the cast's strong vocal performances and the pleasant accompaniment of a four-piece band, Goodall's musical numbers -- which make up the bulk of this 21/2-hour production -- are a disappointment.
Those looking for rousing anthems or moving ballads will have to settle for limp, overlong songs that mostly sound the same. Anyone trying to find the story in Goodall's libretto will have to suffer through facile rhymes, such as a verse that pairs "attraction" with "killed in action." Goodall's intent to honor the women of World War II may have been good, but veterans deserve better.
Girlfriends, by Howard Goodall. Directed by Robert Neal Marshall. Music director, Neil Ewachiw; choreography, Laurel Burggraf; set, Wayne Shipley; lighting, Gary Wheeler; costumes, Libby Dasbach. Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes. Through Aug. 1 at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery. Call 800-372-7299 or visit www.girlfriendsthemusical.com.