August 9, 1969. Hollywood, California. The bodies of five people – Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger, Steven Parent, Mojciech Frykowski, and 8-month pregnant Sharon Tate – were found viciously murdered, brutally stabbed and shot to death in Tate’s home. The word “pig” was scrawled on the front door in blood. Who could have committed these horrendous atrocities? Why? Manson’s girls.
Manson’s Girls, by New Musicals, Inc., dives into the psyche of Charles Manson’s followers before the infamous Manson Family murders. Through each woman’s strong and direct point of view, we learn what made them inclined to follow Manson, and how a perfect storm of mayhem was created. With proscenium seating and minimal sets, this new musical (featuring the song “Linda’s Portrait”) relies on the emotional script and songs, as well as the strength of the performers to tell a deeply impassioned narrative of innocence lost.
“She’s out on her own, so all alone.” – Linda’s Portrait
In this devastating tale, Manson’s Girls tackles themes of authority, control, and various power dynamics. While focusing on the girls, the musical serves as an allegory for our current political climate of blindly following authority figures with questionable priorities. Reflected in the narrative, we see how easy it is to get wrapped up in Charles Manson’s promises of “shaking up the conversation” and “waking up a sleeping nation.” His followers, each lost in some way, are looking for someone to fill the void they have within, and Manson is right there, ready to infuse his depraved doctrine into their misguided lives.
This doctrine is perfectly encapsulated in Scott Guy’s script as we witness the downfall of these women from hippies to criminals. Ron Barnett’s rousing rock score, brought to life by a live band, energetically transports us to the ’60s, while Mitchell Glaser’s lyrics burrow into each of the titular girls’ psychoses: a daughter and new mother whose stepfather and husband abandoned her; a head-strong protester who bucks traditional authority and wants “more” out of life; a young woman so in love with Manson that she trades her body for the Family’s rent at his request; the mother of Manson’s son who was taken by the police; a plain woman starving for attention and eager to kill for it. These troubled women are easy targets for the charismatic Manson; by acting the father, the doting boyfriend, the revolutionary leader, Manson taps into their insecurities and exploits them for his cause.
“Gone astray, day by day, fading away.” – Linda’s Portrait
The cast is filled to the brim with dramatic and musical talents. Tasked with conveying their own skewed version of Manson, the actresses are fearless in portraying these flawed characters. Megan Rose Ruble is captivating as the fiery and rebellious Susan “Sadie Mae” Atkins; Lauran Dewey adorably idolizes Manson as Lynnette “Squeaky” Fromme; Lia Peros owns both her soft and rough-and-tumble sides as Patricia “Big Patty” Krenwinkel; Mary “Marioche” Brunner is played to maternal perfection by Christine Anatone; Karlee Squires as the unassuming Cheryl “Zephyr” Saige breaks hearts; and Erinn Elizabeth O’Sullivan’s innocent naïveté is ideal for newest Family member Linda Kasabian. James Schueller (as Charles “Tex” Watson) and Randle Rankin (as Robert “Bobby” Beausoleil) dynamically round out the Family members beholden to the charismatic and deadly Troy Armand Barboza (as Charles Manson). Lauren Byrd also makes a lovely and heartbreaking appearance as Sharon Tate days before her murder.
Manson’s Girls is a chilling story made all too human through a fantastic production. Each of the women are clearly defined and instantly relatable; the actresses excel in their performances. Charles Manson’s menacing presence, while not always on stage, is apparent in each of their doting eyes. The well-rounded and beautiful score is full of thought-provoking lyrics, even the cheeky song-and-dance number “Help Yourself.” The production is an absolutely fascinating and remarkable exploration into what it means to lose one’s identity in someone else.
“I jumped to conclusions and crashed to the ground.” – Linda’s Portrait
Find out more about Manson’s Girls here, and be sure to get your tickets soon. You don’t want to miss this excellent cautionary tale leading up to one of America’s most infamous crimes. Also, check out our other Fringe recommendations here.