Theater review: 'Times They Are A-Changin'
EmptyBrooks Atkinson Theatre, New York
Bottom line: Twyla Tharp's new dance musical using the music of Bob Dylan is far less enjoyable or accessible than her "Movin' Out."
It doesn't look like lightning is going to strike twice for choreographer Twyla Tharp, whose "Movin' Out," essentially a modern ballet danced to the music of Billy Joel, became a surprise Broadway smash. "The Times They Are A-Changin,' " her follow-up effort featuring the oeuvre of the commercially resurgent Bob Dylan, is a far less accessible work that never coalesces into the fantastical theatrical experience she has intended.
Working in a more abstract mode than she did with the reasonably linear "Movin' Out," the director-choreographer here has devised a surreal, barely there narrative involving a traveling circus. The main characters, none of who are dance principals, are Captain A. Rab (Thom Sesma), the rather menacing ringmaster; his insecure son, Coyote (Michael Arden), wishing to break free from his father's bonds; and Cleo (Lisa Brescia), the beautiful young animal trainer who drives the men further apart.
The burgeoning romantic relationship between the latter two characters forms the crux of the story, such as it is, which mainly seems an opportunity for the lead performers to deliver a multitude of numbers from Dylan's songbook, ranging from such classics as the title number, "Blowing in the Wind," "Like a Rolling Stone," etc. to relative obscurities and such recent songs as "Dignity" and "Not Dark Yet."
It all plays like an overconceived concert, with Tharp's choreography, as vibrant and physical as it is here, lacking the variety of her earlier work. A lot of it is inspired by the circus theme, including the incorporation of such big-top staples as tightrope walkers and contortionists, and much use is made of the trampolines placed strategically downstage. At times, the staging succumbs to cuteness, as when the dancers are forced to imitate various circus animals. But there also are many clever ideas on display, including the adroit use of flashlights for the eerie number, "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."
The seven-member dance en-semble goes through their paces with virtuosic athleticism, but the fact that the show's lead characters mainly sing rather than dance robs the choreography of much of its emotional impact. While the Dylan songs are performed with strong conviction, they often display an inevitable blandness compared to the originals.
"The Times They Are A-Changin'"
Presented by Hal Luftig/Warren Trepp, Debra Black, East of Doheny, Rick Steiner/Mayerson Bell Station Group, Terry Allen Kramer, Patrick Catullo, Jon B. Platt/Roland Storm
Credits: Conceived by: Twyla Tharp; Music-lyrics: Bob Dylan; Director-choreographer: Twyla Tharp; Set/costume designer: Santo Loquasto; Lighting designer: Donald Holder; Sound designer: Peter Hylenski. Cast: Coyote: Michael Arden; Captain A. Rab: Thom Sesma; Cleo: Lisa Brescia; Ensemble: Alexander Brady, Alaine Kashian, Jason McDole, Charlie Neshyba-Hodges, Jonathan Nosan, John Selya, Ron Todorowski.