The Times They Are A-Changing
Michael Arden in The Times They Are A-Changin', photo by Craig Schwartz.
The Times They Are A-Changin’, the new Twyla Tharp/Bob Dylan Broadway collaboration is reminiscent of another recent musical, Ring of Fire, which was based on the music of Johnny Cash. Both shows use each performer’s catalog of music to create a series of vignettes to showcase the songs. Like Ring, Times takes great liberties with the music and to a less-than-positive effect. Actually, Dylan fans will be horrified to hear the songs amplified Broadway-style.
To tie the songs together, Tharp, as creator, choreographer and director, has conceived a plot involving a certain Captain Ahrab (Thom Sesma), the tyrannical owner of a struggling circus, and his adolescent son, Coyote, which at the performance I attended, was played by the stand-by for the role, Jason Wooten. The landscape of the show is populated by all sorts of exotic characters, including clowns, acrobats, a runaway named Cleo and a dancing dog. The clowns are costumed in strange outfits right out of the Cirque du Soleil wardrobe room and have the attitude to match. In this show, it appears that the more bizarre you can look and act, the better.
It is telling that apart from the requisite opening dance number, the first time that anything with a semblance to dancing appears is about 26 minutes into the show and about a third of the way into the 90 minute piece. Most of the “dancing” up to this point consists of performers doing handstands and other acrobatic acts. And while it may be impossible to recreate the powerful dynamics of a show like Movin’ Out, Ms. Tharp’s first Broadway success, Mr. Dylan’s music still lends itself to interpretation through dance. The “Mr. Tambourine Man” number works beautifully as one dancer, the talented Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, eloquently give life to the lyrics sung by Mr. Wooten. The choreography for the number is elegant and powerful and true to the intent of the song. Unfortunately for the show, there are few numbers like this in The Times They Are A-Changin’.
Mr. Dylan’s songs are belted out in generic Broadway fashion and they end up losing their impact and counterculture meaning. Ms. Tharp substitutes choreography with mediocre circus acts. Dancers, like the show-stopping John Selya, Movin’ Out’s breakout star, are wasted and underused. At the performance I attended, only one number received enthusiastic applause from the audience. The rest were given tepid, polite claps probably initiated by the producers and their friends.
Thom Sesma, as Captain Ahrab, sings well and plays the villain effectively. Jason Wooten is earnest and likeable as the tortured son. As Clea, the runaway, Lisa Brescia seems an odd choice. With her flawless makeup and perfectly cut bangs, she seems more prom queen than waif. She also appears to be considerably older than Coyote. The ensemble of singers and dancers go on bravely, except for the one poor unfortunate dancer who is given the part of Coyote’s dog. He just looks embarrassed at the awful, cutesy movements he is made to perform.
The Times They Are A-Changing is a missed opportunity. With a canon of songs that inspired the 60’s anti-war movement and a world-class choreographer coming off a hit show at the helm, it is not surprising that expectations were high for a Dylan/Tharp collaboration. Unfortunately, the end result is an unfocused circus act that fails to grasp the power of Mr. Dylan’s music and their meaning to an entire generation of Americans.
The Times They Are A-Changin’, Conceived, Directed and Choreographed by Twyla Tharp, Music and Lyrics by Bob Dylan. Sets and Costumes by Santo Loquasto, Lights by Donald Holder, Sound by Peter Hylenski, Orchestrations by Michael Dansicker and Bob Dylan, Music Direction by Henry Aronson. At the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 West 47th Street, NYC.