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March 2, 2024
Jukebox Musical of the 1960's
A Sign of the Times

There’s a scene in a dark version of Cinderella where the stepsisters, anxious to make the glass slipper fit, cut off their own toes. They will do anything they can to cram their feet in - whether the shoe fits or not. That’s a problem with many jukebox musicals. They will cram and push and force the music.

The new jukebox musical, “A Sign of The Times” presented by York Theater at the New World Stage is set in 1965. The show attempts to feature as much music from the time as possible. Sometimes it even cheats and uses songs that were after ‘65. It also is over-ambitious using several themes including Viet Nam, women’s lib and civil rights. Maybe too much for a 2 ½ hour musical?.

The 60’s were a tumultuous time and “A Sign of The Times” tells of Cindy (talented Chilina Kennedy,) a photographer from Ohio. Instead of following the path of her friends, settling down and becoming a wife and mother, she decides to try her luck in NYC. Her boyfriend Matt (Justin Matthew Sargent) proposes but is willing to wait till she returns. Frustrated and stymied, she finally finds a room with a feisty singer Tanya (the wonderful Crystal Lucas-Perry.) Among the best presented songs are those sung by Lucas-Perry because they feel natural and organic to the story.

Cindy is on the forefront of women’s lib yet she’s naive. When she meets Brian, the head of an advertising agency (shades of “Mad Men,”) she is immediately attracted to him. Brian (Ryan Silverman) is a cad in a suit and all of us know it. Cindy gets a job in his agency as an assistant, hoping to impress people with her photography. Eventually she pitches a campaign to him. When he takes credit for her campaign, she is the only one surprised.

In the meantime, Tanya meets Cody (Akron Lanier Watson) who’s come to NY as part of SNCC to protest for civil rights. The two love one another but differ on how to deal with the movement. When small town Matt is drafted , he sends Cindy letters from Viet Nam. Matt and Cody represent two of the darker times in the 1960’s. Although the two men do a good job singing a duet of “Eve of Destruction,” this is still a light-hearted musical. There are so many places where the action could have turned more serious, but it never does.

Jukebox musicals are about the music and that’s often what draws people in. Many songs featured in the show were Petula Clark’s hits, including the title song. In fact, Clark is given a quick mention when she “cannot attend” a party given by Randy Forthwall (a Andy Warhol-type character,)

The audience reaction probably is most indicative of the show's appeal. Most people in the theater were of the age to appreciate and probably recall the songs, yet no one seemed to be 'into’ it. The teen-age girl next to me and her dad left at intermission. Although the show got better in the second act, I don’t think they would have appreciated it.

I’ve always loved Off-Broadway productions. You're able to sit closer, pay less and if the show is good, it’s a bargain. If you choose well, you see it before it moves to Broadway. It doesn’t matter if the settings are sparse and the dancing is minimal. Yet this show felt too much like a community theater production

The goal here seemed to be to include as many songs as possible, whether they entirely fit or not. The secretaries in Brian’s office sing “These Boots Made For Walkin’ yet they do nothing until Cindy takes action. Even “Don’t Sleep in the Subways” when Tanya and Cody reunite seemed forced. Surely there was a better song for the lovers?

There was some great music in 1965 and I wonder if obtaining musical rights was a stumbling block for “A Sign of the Times." Although many of the songs were good and well-done, they would have worked better if they were appropriate. This is a show for an out-of -town audience of a certain age. Personally I’d rather listen to the Sirius 60’s station.

New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
New york, NY

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Written by: Elyse Trevers
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