The Times They Are A-Changin'
Left: Michael Arden (top) and Charlie Neshyba-Hodges perform “Mr. Tambourine Man” in
The Times They Are A-Changin’, choreographed by Twyla Tharp. Right: Charlie Neshyba-Hodges (front) and Michael Arden (with guitar) perform “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Photo by Craig Schwartz, courtesy The Old Globe Theatre.
The Times They Are A-Changin’
February 9–March 19, 2006
Reviewed by Janice Steinberg
*This review covers the production at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego prior to an expected Broadway transfer.
Standing alone at the lip of the stage, Michael Arden sang the title song to open The Times They Are A-Changin’, Twyla Tharp’s new musical. Fresh-faced and sweet-voiced, Arden implored us to “gather round” and conveyed the joy of believing in a better world. A lump-in-the-throat moment, it also illustrated the challenge of setting a musical to Bob Dylan songs: How do you theatricalize music whose power resides in that prophetic image of one man standing alone and speaking truth?
Tharp’s Broadway-bound show, playing as a work in progress in San Diego, hasn’t yet jelled. The characters—a brutal circus owner (Thom Sesma, a grizzled Dylan stand-in), his gentle son (Arden), and an animal trainer (a too-brittle Jenn Colella)—didn’t engage emotionally.
The seedy circus setting, however, felt pitch-perfect. It inspired Santo Loquasto’s magical sets and costumes—a tawdry-bright wagon, ragamuffin clothes. And it let Tharp stretch into an acrobatic movement vocabulary. Clearly having fun, she choreographed handstands and flips for her seven-member ensemble, and gave them giddy moves on several onstage trampolines. Her gymnastically adept dancers include former Olympian Tamara Levinson, a fierce, brilliant presence who defied the laws of physics with her springy body.
Still, there’s nothing like the dancing by ballet greats that ignited Movin’ Out. Here, the three leads are singers, and maybe the lack of engagement occurred in part because Tharp had them carry the show emotionally and put dance—the language in which she has artistic fluency and depth—in a back-seat role. Some numbers had little or no dancing; however, among the memorable dance moments was “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Marty Lawson (subbing for the injured Charlie Neshyba-Hodges) did loose-jointed arm swings and kicks as Arden sang, perched on a half-moon suspended above the stage.
In “Masters of War,” the dancers were whipped, twisting animals. Contortionist Jonathan Nosan did a torturous back arch, folding his spine on itself. But, perhaps to make sure the dance didn’t overpower the song, Arden and the five-member band (on a platform to one side) amped it up, turning Dylan’s devastating indictment of warmongers into a schmaltzy show tune. Which gets back to the as-yet-unsolved problem of dramatizing these songs. Tharp made major changes in Movin’ Out after a poorly received Chicago opening, and Broadway may see a very different version of The Times They Are A-Changin’. See www.theoldglobe.org.