Transformation of novels into movies and then as stage plays is common. From the novel to a hit movie in 1996, "The First Wives Club" is now a Broadway-bound musical currently in rehearsal at The Old Globe. The comedy about three wives who band together after being dumped by their husbands is brought to life by a musical extravaganza of original music. "The First Wives Club" runs July 17 through Aug. 30.
Brenda (Barbara Walsh), Annie (Karen Ziemba) and Elyse (Sheryl Lee Ralph), former college roommates who have just reunited, discover they have something in common. They've been dumped by their husbands for younger women.
"This is a story of empowerment," Ziemba said. "It resembles the movie and novel a little, but the book by Tony-winner Rupert Holmes is a bit darker. The big diva film star is now a pop diva singer much in the vein of Patti Bell, Aretha Franklin or Diana Ross."
Tony-winning actor-singer-dancer Ziemba ("Annie") is one of Broadway's most versatile performers, having starred in "Contact," "Crazy For You," as Roxie Hart in "Chicago," and recently in the Globe's "Six Degrees of Separation." She was drawn to this play by the opportunity to work with director Francesca Zambello, who is the artistic adviser at San Francisco Opera, has won three Olivier Awards and has credits at The Metropolitan Opera.
"I loved the story, and it's nice to have stage roles for seasoned actresses," Ziemba said. "Francesca is very bright with wonderful conceptual ideas and has a great visual eye of how the show will look."
The male cast includes John Dossett, Kevyn Morrow, Brad Oscar, Sam Harris, Ari Lerner and Austyn Myers.
"To see a bunch of hot guys over 40 accompanying us on stage who still have stamina and are attractive is wonderful," Ziemba said.
At the heart of the play is the music with a score by Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, who created hits for Martha and The Vandellas, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and The Supremes, and the orchestration by Harold Wheeler.
"The music is all original but with a Motown sound and that familiar Motown beat," Ziemba said. "It's so much fun, and those big ballads are so emotional."
Because the cast must sing, act and dance, the team of creative artists behind the scenes is essential to what is seen on stage. Ziemba is enamored by the group assembled for this production.
"We have an incredible set designer (Peter J. Davison, "Blithe Spirit") and costume designer (Paul Tazewell, "Guys and Dolls," "The Color Purple")," she said. "And the difference of going from a rehearsal room to a set being lit by designer Mark McCullough (revival of "Jesus Christ Superstar") creates a wonderful nuance in our performances. Working with these artists and choreographer Lisa Stevens is an incredible gathering of people with like minds."
Ziemba feels patrons will respond to several elements in "The First Wives Club," including the empowerment of friends helping one another and the music.
"It's about doing unto others and not blaming anyone," she said. "And with this music, you can't help but bebop in your seat. It just makes you feel good."