You really, really want to like this little musical. Its heart’s in the right place, the subject matter is fascinating and the performers do try. Unfortunately, the music is forgettable and the script’s a snooze. This show, by Sani Muliaumaseali’i, aspires to be a Samoan
Someone needs to take this show and do quite a bit of fixing for the admittedly interesting story to really shine.
Ninotcha Tingleff is probably the strongest member of the cast — her performance as Debra is genuinely affecting at times, even though performing this stale script must be like chewing through cardboard. However, Tingleff’s natural charisma makes her a believable limelight addict. Dilys Uwagboe (Salma) has a lovely singing voice but her acting abilities fall short, although to be fair this is mostly a failing on the part of the writer and director. As Sinalei, Ashleigh Leroy has the hardest job by far and nearly manages to cope. In Samoa, Sinalei’s culturally accepted as a Fa’afafine, or a male who lives as a female. However, she’s now finding it much harder to manage in London and on dating websites. Leroy gives a sweet, sunny performance but his delivery is often unnatural and stilted.
Kava Girls’ script may be very weak, but it does deserve highest praise for its dignified treatment of transgender issues. Sinalei isn’t treated like a stand-in for an entire cause and the show introduces her quite nonchalantly without fussing over explanations. However, this is about the only praise the script deserves. It’s otherwise unbearably flat and the musical numbers just limp along. It doesn’t help that the accompanying pianist prefers to just press a button on her keyboard for pre-recorded songs. As a musical, this is canned and lifeless and the show’s failure to intelligently stage anything is extremely frustrating. Kava Girls hasn’t adapted to its current venue in the slightest. The set is extremely cluttered with cardboard boxes. These store various costume changes and are meant to suggest the girls’ dressing room but they just make it difficult for the performers to get around onstage. Also, the insistence on using only the very front of the space is extremely dull— if only everyone could take just a few steps back once in a while. As it is, all the drama happens practically in the front row.
Someone needs to take this show and do quite a bit of fixing for the admittedly interesting story to really shine. Kava Girls needs a complete rewrite and a new director but there’s just enough heart in this story to make you hope someone makes the effort.