"JUST A SINGING A SONG," "JUST A SINGING A SONG"
AUGUST/SEPTEMBER MUSICALS, Part 2/2: "SHOUT!"
"SHOUT! THE MOD MUSICAL."
Created by Phillip George and David Lowenstein.
Directed by Phillip George. Choreography by David Lowenstein.
The Julia Miles Theater, 424 W. 55 St., NYC.
Opened July 27, 2006. Open run.
Tues., 7 PM; Wed.-Sat. 8 PM; Wed., Sat., Sun. 3 PM.
For tickets call 212-239-6200 or www.telecharge.com, $55.
Reviewed by Glenda Frank
For New Yorkers who must have camp, irony, topsy-turvy situations, and originality, the musical "Shout!", a London prize-winner, will be a disappointment. But for those who want to take a short walk down memory lane to revisit the music and the changing lives of women in the 1960s, the unpretentious "Shout!" is a pleasure. It's like returning home without having to argue with relatives, retrieve embarrassing moments with friends or even confess your own youthful lapses. And the music is catchy, culled from platinum oldies: "Don't Sleep in the Subway, Darling," "Signs of the Times," "Diamonds Are Forever," "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," over two dozen songs in all rendered by five sexy young women who are all about recreating the decade's dances, costumes, and issues (with a British accent) rather than being divas.
The performers – plus three live musicians and Carole Shelley as Gwendolyn Holmes, the disembodied voice of the advice columnist – are generic and color-coded. The Girl in Red, played by Denise Summerford, a gifted comedienne, is a clumsy misfit in dorky glasses who blossoms when the sexist sixties become the hippy seventies. It's harder to distinguish the Blue (Marie-France Arcilla) from the Yellow (Erin Crosby) from the Orange (Julie Dingman Evans) and Green (Erica Schroeder) Girls, especially as they change funky costumes frequently (lots of work for designer Philip Heckman) and hair styles and snappy dance routines. For "Son of a Preacher Man," the women form a doo-wop chorus behind a lead singer. For "England Swings" they each get a solo. For "Goldfinger," one singer belts out the lyrics. The vitality in the staging and song selection captures the 60s sense of adventure, innovation, and freedom.
All the names, phrase-dropping and trivia easily evoke memories and social history. Twiggy, Mary Quant, new (flammable) synthetics for dresses, the cigarette-and-caffeine diet, avocado kitchen appliances, the first credit card in England (Barclay's), the Pill (a miracle drug, approved by the National Health, that may cause cramps, rage, and hair loss, the overvoice informs us), the "devil's weed," LSD, Tom Jones – it's a long list. Some of the comedy routines and dances seem borrowed from "Laugh In" (a precursor to "Saturday Night Live"). The show is field research for the younger generation.
All of this would be a neon kaleidoscope of fluff if it weren't for the revue's satiric edge. "Shout!" the show's title, is the name of a (fictive?) trendy magazine "for the modern woman." Letters from the advice column, love quizzes, and ads punctuate the musical acts, adding vivid 60s color. (The format is reminiscent of the TV show "Just Shoot Me," in which articles on the magazine cover of "Blush" title the scenes.) In the early 1960s, the women agree with the columnist that it's never a mistake to marry. It's the highest aspiration for a woman. The songs reflect this male-centered universe: "I Only Want to Be with You," "Puppet on a String," "Wishin' & Hopin'." By 1966, a "Shout!" article is titled "Sex Partners and Orgies. Find out How You Can Get Invited" although the women are advised to get pedicures and show understanding of physically abusive mates. The end of the era is signaled by a reader's declaration that she is moving out to Earl's Court (read the East Village) and planning to experience orgasms -- even if the columnist doesn't believe in them.
The show falters toward the close when Nancy Sinatra's angry "These Boots Are Made for Walking" is sung with cheery faces and open gestures. The new 1970s tone of assertion and political involvement is only a hint and a costume change. The 1960s was a voyage to feminist self-discovery, but "Shout!" never pulls its exuberant ship into port.