A Sign of the Times

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Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Cititour.com Review
There are probably big dollar signs in the eyes of the commercial producers of “A Sign of the Times,” the sometimes entertaining and often bloated jukebox musical – co-produced by the York Theatre Company – that features over two dozen songs from the mid-1960s. It’s crystal clear from the opening notes of the title tune – closely followed by the Dusty Springfield classic “I Only Want to Be with You” -- that this piece has been designed to attract the same baby boomer audience that have made musicals like “Jersey Boys” and “A Beautiful Noise” into hits.

And while some audiences might be content to sit in New World Stages and just mouth along to the trifecta of Petula Clark’s biggest hits (“Downtown,” “I Know a Place,” and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway”), the show would have a better chance at big-scale success -- and appeal to all demographics -- if director Gabriel Barre would trim a lot of the fat.

It’s not just that the score of more than two dozen tunes could lose a few songs, but Lindsay Hope Pearlman’s overloaded book and JoAnn Hunter’s attractive but often unnecessary choreography both need serious cutting. Indeed, in keeping with today’s times, the musical would work better at 105 minutes than 2-and-a-half hours.

As it happens, the show’s core story could almost take place today. Naïve Ohio native Cindy (the strong-voiced and appealing Chilina Kennedy) hastily leaves her small hometown on New Year’s Day 1966 – just hours after being proposed to by her seemingly all-American boyfriend Matt (a handsome, gravel-voiced Justin Matthew Sargent) – to find her true calling in New York City, where she wants to become a professional photographer.

Once in the big city, taking a bite of the Big Apple proves much harder than Cindy expected. She knocks on dozens of apartment doors before finding a suitable roommate in Tanya, an aspiring African American singer (played by the consistently scene-stealing Crystal Lucas-Perry, blessed with both expert comic timing and a powerhouse voice that does justice to everything from “Rescue Me” to “Something’s Got a Hold on Me.”)

As for that elusive job, even though her photographs eventually grab the eye of ad mogul Brian Paulson (an oddly miscast Ryan Silverman, trying to do his best Don Draper and striking out) and Cindy herself catches the eye of the womanizing Paulson, she’s still assigned to the steno pool alongside his many other former conquests.

Moreover, while Cindy dreams of a future with Paulson (further proof of her naivete), she can’t forget totally about Matt, who has been sent to Vietnam and periodically pops up on her telephone (cue “Last Train to Clarksville”) and in her mind (cue “Eve of Destruction”). Romantically, Tanya seems to have found her soulmate in non-violent activist Cody (a quietly dignified Akron Lanier Watson), but their union is put into question when he wants to continue his vote-getting work in the deep South.

As one can tell, one big issue with Pearlman’s book is her insistence on covering every social issue that happened in 1966 – with an especially healthy emphasis on “women’s lib” (cue “These Boots Are Made for Walking” and “You Don’t Own Me”). She also didn’t really need to include two scenes featuring a thinly disguised (if not rail-thin) Andy Warhol (here called Randy Forthwall and exuberantly played by Edward Staudenmayer) when one would have been enough.

Luckily, the show gives audiences plenty to look at, thanks to Johanna Pan’s colorful and occasionally outrageous costumes, while Joseph Church’s sets are efficient, sometimes clever, and well augmented by Brad Petersen’s vibrant projections. (The sound design, by Shannon Slaton, could use some fine-tuning.)

In the end, though, less matter and more art would make “A Sign of the Times” more worthy of your time.

By Brian Scott Lipton

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Open/Close Dates
Opening 2/22/2024
Closing 6/2/2024

Theatre Info
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
New York, NY 10019