This past weekend I had the pleasure of enjoying two jukebox musicals right here in my own backyard of Downtown Wilmington and its Riverfront. Both shows feature amazing talent and Top 40 hits we all know, but only one has prospects for the Great White Way.
Set in 1965, A Sign of the Times is written by former Hollywood Square/Six-time Emmy winner, Bruce Vilanch and features 25 of the most popular songs of the mid-60s; most of which were made famous by Petula Clark and written by Tony Hatch. The musical also includes hits by Dusty Springfield, Nancy Sinatra, Cher, Lesley Gore, The Monkees, and many more.
The plot is a riff on the classic coming-of-age story of a girl who leaves her one-horse town for the possibilities that await in the big city. There she finds and loses love, makes new friends, and obtains success, all while becoming engulfed in the Anti-War, Civil Rights, and Women’s Lib movements that defined a generation.
The aforementioned girl, Cindy, comes to life by way of the amazing talents of Chilina Kennedy, who has been with the production since its first reading and is on hiatus from her turn as Carole King in Broadway’s Beautiful.
Her journey from wide-eyed small-town girl to Downtown working-girl is powerful, relatable, and touching in each moment of her nuanced performance. Kennedy has a voice with an endearing warmth in the more tender moments of the show but one that also packs a wallop in numbers like “The Shoop Shoop Song” and “You Don’t Own Me”.
Other performances of note come from Cindy’s New York love interest Brian, a Don Draper/Mad Men-type, expertly played by Ryan Silverman and Crystal Lucas Perry who shines as the sassy and street-smart Tanya. Her dynamic execution of this role will have you laughing and crying while her counterpart, Steven Grant Douglas as Dennis, brings the house down alongside the full cast in “If I Could Dream”–a number that should close Act I, however, there are some additional plot points and loose ends to tie up before moving into the next act.
Another highlight of this production is the stellar choreography by Joann M. Hunter which will have audiences reminiscing about great Bob Fosse sequences like the “Rich Man’s Frug” from Sweet Charity and the teen dance shows of the day like American Bandstand and Hullabaloo.
The set by Paul Tate dePoo III is expertly designed and crafted – the opening tableau reminded me of the set for Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays. These scenic elements are amplified by stellar projections (designed by 59 Productions) that beam from the proscenium to the cyc, which opens to reveal the amazing 12-piece band led by Rick Fox.
FAB-U-LOUS period-appropriate costumes from Jen Caprio had my companion actively informing me how she wanted this and that dress or those shoes quite often throughout the performance.
Also, be on the lookout for a few fun, blink-or-you’ll-miss-it brushes with famous folks of the era such as Petula Clark, Bob Dylan, and Andy Warhol. Plus, watch for an homage to Vilanch’s signature style via a particular character in Act II.
While the production is not without fault (i.e. the number that doesn’t close Act I, as well as some jarring musical segues), its potential for Broadway is palatable.
Bruce, on the off chance you’re reading this: I greatly respect and admire your work but, PLEASE introduce Dennis and establish both his nonconformist attitude and potential relationship with Tanya MUCH sooner. Also, bring Aunt Cleo back a couple of times via a check-in phone call with Cindy and/or have her show up in Act II alongside the leads at a protest, which we do see in the final number but without ceremony.
Speaking of protests, A Sign of the Times vividly reminds us of where we have come as a culture in the fight for equal rights and how far we have yet to go. The closing number, “Downtown” effectively connects imagery of the marches and sit-ins from the ‘60s to those of today; #BlackLivesMatter, Million Man and Woman Marches, #MeToo, etc.
This show will surely have audiences singing along and tapping their toes as I witnessed on the opening Sunday matinee – the blue-haired women in front of me were having a ball and so was I.