Review

RMTC's Bittergirl: The Musical makes getting dumped an easy pill to swallow

While Bittergirl: The Musical may lack originality in subject matter, it earns points for being a stylish, lively and entertaining look at being jilted through some of the best songs about love — and love lost — of the '60s and '70s.

1960s and '70s hits spin familiar, predictable scenes of heartbreak into laughs

While Bittergirl: The Musical may lack originality in subject matter, it earns points for being a stylish, lively and entertaining look at being jilted through some of the best songs about love — and love lost — of the '60s and '70s. (Dylan Hewlett)

I believe it was the ancient Greek dramatist Aristophanes who wrote, "Getting dumped sucks."

OK, that may not be entirely factually accurate. But the point remains that breakups have always been hard, and stories about heartbreak are as old as the idea of hooking up.

So you perhaps can't entirely fault Bittergirl: The Musical, the latest show at the Royal MTC Mainstage, for not really saying anything especially new or surprising about the pain of busting up.

But you do have to give it credit for being a stylish, lively and entertaining look at being jilted through some of the best songs about love — and love lost — of the '60s and '70s.

The tunes in Bittergirl are primarily girl group classics from the '60s, with a few disco-era anthems thrown in for good measure. (Dylan Hewlett)
The musical premiered in 2015, but its roots go back to the late '90s, when writers Annabel Fitzsimmons, Alison Lawrence and Mary Francis Moore decided to channel their real-life splits into a play called bittergirl. It became a hit, was followed by a self-help book called Bittergirl: Getting Over Being Dumped, and has now become Bittergirl: The Musical.

And it's easy enough to see why it's been so successful. As it follows three women, identified only as A (Rebecca Auerbach), B (Sarite Harris) and C (Alana Hibbert) from getting dumped through stages of grief and finally — not a spoiler really — to recovery, it offers up vignettes anyone who's ever had their heart broken will find woefully familiar.

There's the "binge eating and crying at home" stage; the "getting fit so he'll regret it" stage; the "let's key his car" stage. We've all been there.

But these vignettes are presented mainly through song — and, in an inspired touch, the tunes in Bittergirl are primarily girl group classics from the '60s, with a few disco-era anthems thrown in for good measure.

They run the gamut from the throes of love (The Crystals' hit And Then He Kissed Me) to shock (The Supremes' Where Did Our Love Go) to aching (Dionne Warwick's Always Something There to Remind Me) to empowerment (Gloria Gaynor's I Will Survive).

Sarite Harris, Alana Hibbert and Rebecca Auerbach belt out songs with gusto, showing off strong singing voices and sly comedic chops. (Dylan Hewlett)
The three women belt these numbers out with gusto, showing off strong singing voices and sly comedic chops. As the Everyman — literally, since he plays all three of the dumpers — Michael Torontow likewise shows off a powerful voice, and gets some of the funniest lines and scenes in the show (his hilariously overwrought rendition of Love Hurts — complete with fog machine — drives home just how insipid the lyrics to that song really are).

They're backed by a four-woman band, under music director Rachel Cameron, who are tight and energetic, performing on the upper level of Charlotte Dean's eye-catching '60s-chic set.

Kimberley Rampersad's choreography is sharp, athletic and often very funny (see, for example, an exercise ball routine during a workout-themed rendition of Donna Summer's Hot Stuff). Director Krista Jackson's 105-minute (with intermission) production never lags.

The action in Bittergirl: The Musical plays out on an eye-catching '60s-chic set. (Dylan Hewlett)
Yes, there are a few cliched lines, and certainly Bittergirl is nothing if not predictable. It won't offer great revelations into the nature of heartbreak or how to deal with your own. 

But if you're far enough past it to laugh, you will. And if you're not, Bittergirl just might help get you there.

Bittergirl: The Musical runs at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre's John Hirsch Mainstage until April 8.

About the Author

Joff Schmidt

CBC theatre reviewer

Joff Schmidt is a copy editor for CBC Manitoba. Since 2005, he's also been CBC Manitoba's theatre critic on radio and online. He majored in theatre at the U of M, and performed in many university and Fringe festival productions along the way (ranging from terrible to pretty good, according to the reviews). Find him on Twitter @JoffSchmidt.