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A Sign of the Times

An entertaining but glib look at the turbulent Sixties in a new jukebox musical from The York Theatre Company.

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Crystal Lucas-Perry as Tanya and Chilina Kennedy as Cindy in a scene from the new musical “A Sign of the Times” at New World Stages (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

[avatar user=”Joel Benjamin” size=”96″ align=”left”] Joel Benjamin, Critic[/avatar]

Yes, A Sign of the Times is yet another jukebox musical, this time featuring songs of the Sixties.  It uses the kind of songs Petula Clark (“Downtown” and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”), Dusty Springfield (“I Only Want to Be with You”), Nancy Sinatra (“These Boots Were Made for Walking”), Manhattan Transfer (“The Boy from New York City”), Cher (“The Shoop Shoop Song”), Janis Ian (“Society’s Child”), Lesley Gore (“You Don’t Own Me”) and The Monkees (“Last Train to Clarksville”) memorably sang over the airwaves and on jukeboxes throughout the world.

This York Theatre Company production at the New World Stages, following a presentation at Goodspeed Musicals in 2016, shoehorns these songs into a book by Lindsey Hope Pearlman from a story created by Richard J. Robin. It has an ambitious plot that glibly takes on a number of themes roiling through the turbulent Sixties:  women’s lib, civil rights, the war in Vietnam, the sexual revolution, Andy Warhol, and even a premature touch of gay liberation.

Cindy (Chilina Kennedy) is at home in Centerville, Ohio, celebrating New Year’s Eve 1965 and is surprised when her handsome mechanic boyfriend Matt (Justin Matthew Sargent) suddenly proposes (“I Only Want to Be with You”).  Taken aback, Cindy demurs telling Matt and all the partygoers that she wants to go to New York City to become a professional photographer.

Alyssa Carol, Melessie Clark, Chilina Kennedy, Lena Theresa Matthews and Erica Simone Barnett in a scene from the new musical “A Sign of the Times” at New World Stages (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

On her bus to NYC (“Around Every Corner” and “Baby, the Rain Must Fall”) she meets Civil Rights activist Cody (Akron Lanier Watson)

NYC proves daunting until she finds refuge with the ebullient, confident Tanya (Crystal Lucas-Perry), a big-voiced, bluesy singer who has a room to rent in her Harlem apartment.  After some initial wariness, the two hit it off and join for adventures in the City (“Count on Me”).

Cindy looks for a position in an advertising firm where the secretaries are up in arms about the harassment they experience (“These Boots Are Made for Walking”).  She is rebuffed and is so depressed that Tanya takes her out (“I Know a Place”) to a glittery nightclub where Tanya sings and Cindy schmoozes with Brian (Ryan Silverman), a Madison Avenue executive, who comes on a bit too strong.

Ryan Silverman as Brian and Chilina Kennedy as Cindy in a scene from the new musical “A Sign of the Times” at New World Stages (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

As A Sign of the Times zips along the plot gets complicated.  Cindy is torn between her devotion to Matt, now overseas fighting in Vietnam and Brian who, after reconnecting with her, has become not only her boss but her romantic admirer.  Deceived by Brian at work, Cindy becomes disenchanted until her career gets a jolt from Randy Forthwall (Edward Sraudenmayer), an absurd Andy Warhol-esque character.   Adding even more color to her life is an unexpected turn in her relationship with her fiancé, Matt, who returns from Southeast Asia.

At the same time Tanya meets Cody who sweeps her off her feet with his political proselytizing and romantic ardor.

Pearlman’s book does have many witty moments, but takes on too much and is forced into clichés and anachronisms.

All the performers are fine, making the most of the sometimes obvious lines.  Watching Kennedy’s Cindy go from an eager-beaver naïf to a strong woman holds the play together while Lucas-Perry’s sexy big mama movingly becomes a fuller person through her relationship with Cody who grounds her. To his credit, Silverman’s smooth-voiced, agile performance as Brian smooths over this character’s irritating qualities.

J Savage, Alyssa Carol, Justin Matthew Sargent as Matt, Chilina Kennedy as Cindy and Cassie Austin in a scene from the new musical “A Sign of the Times” at New World Stages (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

The swift-moving sets by Evan Adamson and the vibrant projections by Brad Petersen colorfully evoke the period and places while the venerable Ken Billington’s lighting is cheery and apt.

Johanna Pan’s glittery and colorful period costumes are witty and character defining, from Cindy’s plain-Jane Ohio outfits to her shiny gowns as she grows in sophistication.

The band, led by Britt Bonney, provides superb support for the singers and dancers who are put through their paces by JoAnn M. Hunter’s Fosse-light choreography.

Crystal Lucas-Perry as Tanya, Akron Lanier Watson as Cody and the cast of the new musical “A Sign of the Times” at New World Stages (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

One of Hunter’s skillful numbers stands out. Five ad company executives in a tense ballet float about on office chairs as they express their anxiety and apprehension about an upcoming ad campaign (“Five O’Clock World”).  This is the highlight of the show.

If A Sign of the Times coheres at all it is due to the work of Gabriel Barre, its director, who smartly emphasized the entertaining escapism of the show.

A Sign of the Times (through June 2, 2024)

The York Theatre Company in association with Wells Street Productions and Richard J. Robin

New World Stages/Stage One, 340 West 50th Street, in Manhattan

For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.telecharge.com

Running time: two hours and 30 minutes including one intermission

Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

About Joel Benjamin (562 Articles)
JOEL BENJAMIN was a child performer on Broadway and danced with leading modern dance and ballet companies. Joel has been attending theater, ballet and opera performances ever since childhood, becoming quite opinionated over the years. He was the founder and artistic director of the American Chamber Ballet and subsequently was massage therapist to the stars before becoming a reviewer and memoirist. He is a member of the Outer Critics Circle.

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