If you are a fan of Bob Dylan's music and you like rock concerts with sumptuous production values, The Times They are A-Changin'
is a great show. Buy your tickets now. If you are a fan of traditional Broadway musicals, you might want to give this show a miss. If you are a dance fan and you get turned on by great choreography and you are thinking that this show is the next Movin' Out
, the sort of transitional show that will help your non-dance friends become as addicted to dance as you are, you would be wrong. If you fall into either of the latter two categories, but you want to be able to say "I heard Lisa Brescia before she became famous" then you might want to buy tickets even though the show as a whole, chances are, is not meant for you.
I will start out by saying that I am not really a fan of Bob Dylan's music. It is not that I don't like his music. It is just that he was not a part of my childhood listening the way that Billy Joel or Peter Gabriel or Broadway show tunes were. I can fully admit my ignorance by saying that I tend to get Bob Dylan and Dylan Thomas mixed up.
The show was therefore a positive introduction to his music. I thought that many of his tunes were engaging. His lyrics had something to say that is quite timely for the sort of violent, morally ambiguous times we live in today. The primary singers in the show, Michael Arden, Thom Sesma and Lisa Brescia, had rich vocal quality and crisp articulation. They sounded a little like what I think Bob Dylan is supposed to sound like, without actively trying to sound like Bob Dylan. The orchestrations of the songs were somewhat theatricalized. This might or might not bother a Bob Dylan purist. I thought the renditions presented worked well and were enjoyable to listen to. I especially thought that Lisa Brescia, playing the role of Cleo, had a really beautiful voice. She could easily be a country singer, and probably can pull off any style of music she believes in. My prediction is that in a couple of years there will be one really smart record company executive and about one thousand record company executives who will look like idiots. The smart one will be the one that signs Ms. Brescia to cut a record, and the rest will realize they were idiots for not having signed her. And the smart one will make sure Ms. Brescia's songs get played in Starbucks coffee shops so that people will find out about her and buy her albums.
According to the advance press, this show has a coherent circus-themed plot that ties together Bob Dylan's songs. I guess one could argue that the show has a plot, but you have to really stretch the definition of "plot" to say that. There is some sort of conflict between the owner of a circus and his son. There is some sort of conflict between the owner and a woman, Cleo, who may or may not be his wife or girlfriend. Eventually the son and the woman become a couple. Depending on what you think is the relationship between the circus owner and the woman, the coupling of the woman and the son is either a nice love story, entirely inappropriate and the creators of the show are completely oblivious to how offensive this is, or it is Oedipal but with a happy ending and no blindness. And somewhere in there the circus owner/father dies. Stretch this out for about an hour and a half with no intermission, fill in the gaps with lots of acrobatics on trampolines, and you will understand why I say this show doesn't really have a plot.
In the early part of the show it seems to have a coherent plot. Cleo sings a song in which she says she is leaving, but then, without a word (this show has no book, by the way), she goes back into the circus owner's trailer, takes off her coat, and completely contradicts everything she has just said in the previous song.
Many of the songs, while written a long time ago, have great relevance to the, there is no good way to put this, crap that the current administration is putting our country through in Iraq and elsewhere today. Unfortunately, the power of Bob Dylan's message gets kind of lost in all of the chaotic bouncing around that is the show's circus setting.
Since we are on the subject of the acrobatics, let's talk about the dancing. The advance press led me to believe this was another show capable of creating dance fans ala Movin' Out
. Much of the choreography does have a chaotic feel to it, but this fits with the mood of the show and the circus theme. There is enough good choreography in the show to let the dancers (Lisa Gajda, Neil Haskell, Jason McDole, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, Jonathan Nosan, John Selya and Ron Todorowski) prove repeatedly that they are first class dancers. They executed many high leaps and precise spins. They were very flexible, with excellent tumbling, both of which are appropriate for dance in a circus theme. The dancers were clearly having fun, which I regard as a good indicator. The problem was that while there were many fine moves, taken as a whole the choreography just was not that coherent, in neither a geometric nor a thematic sense. Frankly, the choreography was somewhat forgettable. I realize that Twyla Tharp is an icon in the dance community, but she is experienced enough to take some criticism. Let me put it another way. This show needed more Polka. It had a couple of short Polka segments, and while normally I am neither passionate nor dispassionate about Polka, in this show adding a lot more Polka would have helped. Ms. Tharp missed several prime opportunities to include some Swing dancing. And what was up with the stiff armed promenades? Surely Ms. Tharp, of all people, knows that stiff armed promenade was developed by Groucho Marx as a parody of bad dance technique? There was one very nice grapevine sequence. I'll give her that. Some of the rope dancing was inventive (I was impressed by the jump rope sequence), but, frankly, I preferred the purity of the traditional folk rope dances I saw in Costa Rica
Overall, this show missed an opportunity to serve the dance community.
Much of the time, when there were real dance numbers, the dance didn't have any necessary relationship to the song. Sometimes both the dance and the song were good, but I was thinking, "Either let them dance or let them sing." Sometimes the dance or the activity on stage illustrated the song, as for example, a song that mentioned a tight rope walker so there was a tight rope walker on stage, but it didn't really add to the song's message, except that tight rope walkers have incredible balance. Sometimes the pantomiming clowns were amusing and sometimes they were just a distraction. Note to the director: lose the clown in the "I believe" number. The singing in this number was more than enough to hold the audience's attention – the clown was just distracting. The show was kind of like a mega- multi-song music video. Music videos have their place (I admit I watched quite a few of them back in the early days when MTV still played music videos), but the typical Broadway patron does not spend $100 to see a music video. Did I mention this show has no book? The show has no book.
There was a number with large flashlights that was very cool looking.
So, to sum up The Times They are A-Changin'
by Twyla Tharp and Bob Dylan, there are some good elements in this show. The singers are great. If you are really into Bob Dylan you may love this show. If you are mostly into traditional Broadway shows and/or dance shows, find somewhere else to spend your money.
The show does demonstrate that Bob Dylan is probably capable of creating a real, top-quality Broadway show. Rather than banking on the power of nostalgia for his old tunes, I would suggest he write some new songs designed specifically for a show. And, please, find someone good to write a book that ties the songs together into a coherent plot. Unlike many of the vapid singer songwriters of today, Bob Dylan's music is both tuneful and coiled with an important message. Bob Dylan deserves a show that delivers his message with impact. And such a show should feature Lisa Brescia's voice, assuming they can afford her by the time the show gets developed.
Whether you loved the show or hated it, you should stop by Amarone
, just a block away, for some food and drink. I had the calamari and some Hennessy Cognac, which, combined with the refreshing atmosphere of the restaurant, put me in a good mood.
Conceived by Twyla Tharp
Music and Lyrics by Bob Dylan
Starring Michael Arden, Thom Sesma and Lisa Brescia
Cast: Lisa Gajda, Neil Haskell, Jason McDole, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, Jonathan Noson, John Selya, Ron Todorowski, Alexander Brady, John Herrera, Alaine Kashian, Katie Klaus, Keith Kühl, Marty Lawson, Joseph Putignano, Cary Tedder, Jason Wooten
Scenic and Costume Design by Santo Loquasto
Lighting Design by Donald Holder
Sound Design by Peter Hylenski
Ochestrations by Michael Dansicker and Bob Dylan
Music Direction by Henry Aronson
Music Coordination by Howard Jones
Casting by Jay Binder, Jack Bowdan/Megan Larche
Technical Supervision by Smitty
Production Stage Management by Arthur Gaffin
Association Producers: Jesse Hout, Ginger Montel, Rhoda Mayerson
Resident Director: Kim Craven
General Press Representative: Shaffer-Coyle Public Relations
General Management: The Charlotte Wilcoz Company
Music Arranged, Adapted and Supervised by Michael Dansicker
Directed and Choreographed by Twyla Tharp
Produced by James L. Nederlander, Hal Luftig/Warren Trip, Debra Black, East of Doheny, Rick Steiner/Mayerson Bell Staton Group, Terry Allen Kramer, Patrick Catullo, Jon B. Platt/Roland Sturm
Michael Arden, Lisa Gajda and Charlie Neshyba-Hodges in The Times They Are A Changin'
Photo © & courtesy of Bruce Glikas
Michael Arden and Thom Sesma in The Times They Are A Changin'
Photo © & courtesy of Richard Termine
Lisa Brescia and Michael Arden in The Times They Are A Changin'
Photo © & courtesy of Bruce Glikas
Lisa Brescia and Jason McDole in The Times They Are A Changin'
Photo © & courtesy of Richard Termine