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A Sign of the Times


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The Cast (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)


A Sign of the Times


By Julia Polinsky


A show focusing on a sweet young woman from the boonies who comes to New York to find herself and make a difference: groundbreaking? Nope. But the way it's done is so engaging, A Sign of the Times at New World Stages is a pleasure to watch. And listen to.

The story in short: at the cusp of 1965, Cindy, a young woman wannabe photographer from the boonies (Chilina Kennedy) goes to the brave new world of New York City, making her way into an unforgettable time and place of unimaginable change.

For starters, fresh from her home in Centerville, Ohio, and the safety of her life there, she falls into the Civil Rights movement; she rents a room in Harlem from talented Tanya (Crystal Lucas-Perry), a proudly Black woman whose boyfriend, Cody (Akron Lanier Watson) is the President Emeritus of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, University of Buffalo Chapter. Politics and race, right where she lives!

Cindy also discovers the Feminist movement as she tries to find a job and be taken seriously. She suffers the trauma of the Viet Nam War; her boyfriend back home, Matt (Justin Matthew Sargent) has been drafted and writes to her from the jungles in 'Nam. She experiences the turmoil of the downtown art scene, (the Andy Warhol-analog, Randy Forthwall, [Edward Staudenmayer] is hilarious). When she gets a job on Madison Avenue, and the slick superficiality of her boss (Ryan Silverman) and her work sparks her feminist rebellion, she gets the full blast of the times as they are a' changing.

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Justin Matthew Sargent, Chilina Kennedy (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

In a "jukebox musical" most, if not all, of the songs are existing pop music, rather than written specially for the show. That's basically the definition of what we have here. If you're a certain age, the score evokes sitting in a diner, feeding coins into the shiny machine and getting pop tunes from the 1960s out of the tinny speakers (sound design by Shannon Slaton was uneven and could use some tweaking).

Set in 1965, A Sign of the Times showcases songs from several creative teams and performers of the day. Many, if not most, come from the catalog of Petula Clark, but we also hear tunes from The Monkees, Nancy Sinatra, Dusty Springfield, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Spencer Davis Group, even protest songs like Janis Ian's "Society's Child" and Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction." If you have a taste for the pop tunes of the mid-60s, they're here in their numbers and you'll be tempted to sing along.

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The ensemble (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

The list goes on. So many songs! Over two dozen of them. Weaving a plausible, non-boring story to tie them together is the labor of the book writer, Lindsey Hope Pearlman, and the story creator, Richard J. Robin.

Sometimes, it works; sometimes, it seems like the story arc exists simply to shoehorn a song into the script - at one point, Matt makes a phone call from the train station in Clarksville (conveniently identified by signage in Evan Adamson's set design) begging our heroine to - yes - take the last train... Or when our girl Cindy goes gaga over a guy, and says he's exactly what a New York City boy is like, and suddenly a group of guys are singing ooo wah ooo wah cool cool kitty... No reason for the song to be there, but it's a pleasure to watch this dynamite cast and super ensemble strut their stuff, so it doesn't really matter that the songs are cobbled in.

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Michael Star, J Savage, Justin Showell, Crystal Lucas-Perry, Chilina Kennedy (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

Director Gabriel Barre does a lot with the dynamite cast that centers around the women, in particular the explosively wonderful Tanya and splendid Cindy. As the book cycles around to giving them opportunities to sing, you're grateful, because they're so damn good. The men are fine, but when Tanya lets it rip, the theater shakes.

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Crystal Lucas-Perry, Akron Lanier Watson (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

JoAnn M. Hunter has choreographed some outstanding numbers; Johanna Pan's terrific costumes prompted audience members to say things like "That's so perfect!" and "I had those boots!" Scenic design from Evan Adamson makes the most of a black-box stage, with the superb, all-female band above and in the rear, sometimes concealed, sometimes on view (music arrangements, supervision, and orchestrations by Joseph Church).

The audience loved it, and not just the sixty-somethings wallowing in memory and the women feeling the bloom of empowerment as it played out on stage. A Sign of the Times has something to offer everyone, young or old.



A Sign of the Times

At New World Stages

340 W. 50th St, NYC