BWW Review: A SIGN OF THE TIMES at Delaware Theatre Company
There has been a proliferation of jukebox musicals in the past 2 decades. MAMA MIA far and away heads the list of successes. Using the guilty-pleasure pop catalog of ABBA, playwright Catherine Johnson spun a light-as-air family comedy. Somehow this show makes the songs sound like they were written specifically for the story. It's cumulus-cloud fluffy but also downright irresistible.
In 2005 JERSEY BOYS opened. The storytelling is supremely crafted with a "Rashomon"-style structure that sees through the eyes of each of The Four Singers. It's easily the best of all the "behind the music"-type shows, which include "Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story," "Beautiful - The Carole King Musical".
This background segues beautifully into Delaware Theatre Company's A SIGN OF THE TIMES, a regional premiere with Broadway aspirations. It's star, Chilina Kennedy, played Carole King in BEAUTIFUL. She asked for a hiatus to create the role of Cindy in ASOTT at DTC.
Having a songbook full of hits doesn't guarantee success in the theater, of course. Two failing productions from 2005 come to mind: LENNON and the $7mil flop GOOD VIBRATIONS.
ASOTT, though, appears to be on the MAMA MIA and JERSEY BOYS side of the betting game that is Broadway. It is a rousing and rocking production whose heart is the tunes of Petula Clark but whose lifeblood courses with other standards; in fact, some of the most iconic songs, foot tapping, singalong ditties of the mid-sixties.
The story is of Cindy's coming of age in 1965, leaving a small town to discover both her literal and figurative voice in New York. It was created by Richard J. Robin and written by celebrity writer Bruce Vilanch, (best known for his antics in TV's "Hollywood Squares"). That said, he has won 6 Emmys.
Those times were fraught with issues that sadly remain relevant today. You know what Yogi Berra said about Deja vu: civil rights (seemingly never going away), war in Vietnam (now the 20 years of Afghanistan), woman's lib, rampant sexism of the Mad Men (presently entitled #MeToo).
27 glorious songs of the '60's are sung and danced by an exultant cast of Broadway veterans whose credentials are exemplary. That's a whole lot of tunes. The elevated 8-piece band led by Rick Fox kept of them moving at a frenetic pace. Choreographer JoAnn M. Hunter's head must have been on a swivel; with diverse production numbers ranging from "These Boots are Made For Walking" to "Rescue Me" (led by the soaring voice of Tanya (Crystal Lucas-Perry), to "Downtown" and many more to excite the opening night packed house.
Chilina is a preternatural talent. Her "Kiss Me Goodbye" was thrilling, evoking rabid audience response. Brian (Ryan Silverman) portraying the ham-handed hypocritical sexist dude, has a gorgeous voice. His duet with Cindy "I Couldn't Live Without Your Love" and "The In Crowd" were audience favorites.
Set Design now is moving full force to projections. 59 Projections of the UK created fascinating images.
I imagine this production ranks #1 in numbers of costumes and quick changes for DTC. The outfits were absolutely period and rekindled all kinds of memories for those of a certain age. One can only imagine that Costume Designer Jen Caprio is resting comfortably in a rural PA sanitarium under heavy sedation after this experience.
For the vast majority of the songs, dialogue leading into them worked and we were surprised and entertained with the harmonious transitions. Not so much a surprise with the Monkees all time fave tune. When we heard Matt say 'Clarksville' we knew what was coming. Aisle Say did not see a correct fit with "Don't Sleep In The Subway". But with powerhouse talent behind this production, there will be many debriefings to soften rough edges. DTC continues to be a contemporary 'try-out' town for NYC. Why not? It's next to the Amtrak station.
Delaware Theatre Co Through December 23 - 302.594.1100
Bernard Shaw's SAINT JOAN - Feb 6