Shirley Valentine Preview

This preview article originally appeared in The Star & Wave newspaper on Wednesday, June 14, 2023.

Shirley Valentine Explores Life Beyond the Kitchen Wall

By Lynn Martenstein

“Y’ know I like a glass of wine while I’m doin’ the cookin’,” Shirley Valentine says to her kitchen wall as she pours herself a glass of wine as the poignant one-woman show, “Shirley Valentine,” opens. Valentine has reason to talk to the wall.  She’s a middle-age, working-class, woman in Liverpool whose duties as a wife and mother swept away the life of travel and adventure she envisioned when she was young.

“Shirley Valentine” is an uplifting story about second chances. Running June 7 through July 2 at Cape May Stage, this classic comedy will make you laugh and might even make you tear up just a bit.  Written by British playwright Willy Russell in 1986, the play premiered at London’s West End two years later, and was performed on Broadway the year after.  It was also made into a movie.  The show returned to London in a revival this spring.

Despite the show being set in the ‘80s, it deals with issues that still resonate deeply today such as loneliness, courage and the ever-present need for personal fulfillment.

“I always said I’d leave him (her husband) when the kids grew up but by the time they’d grown, there was nowhere to go,” Shirley says in the play. “Well, you don’t start again at forty-two, do y’?”

The question, “Will she or won’t she,” hangs over much of this play.  In searching for answers, Valentine often turns to her go-to wall. “Do you remember Shirley Valentine, wall? She used to laugh. A lot.  Didn’t she? Did somethin’ happen, or was it just that nothin’ happened?”

A door opens to the prospect of starting a new life when a good friend—a real friend, not a wall—invites her to join her on a two-week trip to Greece. She even buys the ticket for her. The question for Valentine now is whether her dream is dead and, if not, whether the dreamer is still alive.

Cady McClain is masterful in her portrayal  not only of Valentine, but also of her distant husband, ticket-bearing friend and a half dozen other characters she introduces us to in this not-to-be-missed, one-woman play.

McClain was only 16 when Russell wrote “Shirley Valentine,” but she’d been working in television since she was 9.  Her first job was for a Band-Aids commercial in which she sang the “I’m stuck on Band-Aids” song. Future roles included work on “Cheers” and “St. Elsewhere” as a pre-teen, and longer runs on “Days of Our Lives,” “All My Children” and “As the World Turns” as a young adult.  She is the only actor to have ever won three Daytime Emmy awards from all three networks. McClain has also worked in numerous films, including “My Favorite Year” and “Pennies from Heaven.”

Having spent several months studying Shirley Valentine’s character closely, McClain picked up a few life lessons from her. “Shirley has this great attitude about life and an amazing sense of humor,” she explained. “I think the journey she goes on has been a really important one for me as well. The play prioritizes what’s important in life. It’s really emphasized for me how essential it is to do the things that make me happy, and theater is definitely one of those things.”

The California-born actor had a steep learning curve preparing for her role. Hired in March, she  had two months to memorize a 41-page script whose running time is just under two hours.  She also had to deliver her lines in a passable Liverpool accent.

She researched the accent by watching YouTube videos on the town’s history and tutorials on proper pronunciation. She also watched old videos of legend Liverpudlians Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

Roy Steinberg, Producing Artistic Director at Cape May Stage, thinks Russell’s play has aged well. Even though “Shirley Valentine” was written 40 years ago, it’s even more relevant today with new sensibilities about identity and gender roles,” he explained. “Over the course of the play, Shirley learns to eschew the societal roles of wife and mother to start living a larger life.”

“Cady McClain is the perfect artist to play this role,” he added. “She is also a writer, visual artist, director and producer, and has smashed any preconceptions about juggling multiple roles. We are honored to bring her to Cape May Stage.”

“Shirley Valentine” runs Wednesday to Saturday at 7 p.m. with a matinee on Sunday at 3 pm. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call the box office at (609) 770-8311.

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