It was a sell-out crowd that greeted the world premiere of Carol Critchley's "girl group" at Theatre Unbound Saturday night. And they were rewarded with a heady new play, as intense and compelling as its titular rock band, The Furies.

Loosely based on Goldie and the Gingerbreads, the first all-female rock band signed to a major record label, The Furies emerged in the early 1960s. At that point, girl groups were considered novelty acts and, as their producer put it, female rockers (little girls lifting heavy guitars) were "a freak show."

We meet The Furies — lead vocalist Flo (Becka Linder), guitarist Winnie (Laura Mahler), bass player Cecy (Katia Cardenas) and drummer Ruby (Amanda Kay Thom) — playing in a bar in upstate New York. Critchley has the courage to write women who are often not very likeable. Even then, their egos are frequently annoying.

They are discovered by hot record producer (Edward Linder) and become a hit — but not on their own terms. It's painful to watch as the women are co-opted.

Covering more than 20 years, the play starts out as a fairly traditional story of the struggle between artistic integrity and success. But it is more complex than most such cautionary tales. It falls into a few melodramatic traps in the second act, but ends in a most surprising and satisfying way.

The four women rehearsed together for several months to achieve the feeling of a real band. And they succeeded, delivering strong performances of period-sounding songs by Critchley and composer Edie Rae Baumgart. They have a raw and rough feel, appropriate for the level of experience of the band.

They form a strong acting ensemble, as well. Linder's Flo is most effective, as the tough-minded woman who is chewed up and spit out by the business. Cardenas is also successful as the strong-willed glamour girl, Cecy.

Also notable are Channing Jones, as an African American singer taken advantage of by the producer, and Tara Lucchino, as his wife, who becomes as ruthless as him, in order to survive in a man's world.

Director Rebecca Rizzio creates a strong production, simple but evocative. Overall, it demonstrates that Theatre Unbound is evolving into an ever stronger and more dependable theatre, celebrating the work of women artists.

William Randall Beard writes about theater.