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Wednesday, February 22, 2006 | Editor’s Note: Voice of San Diego has been attempting to give theater patrons the opportunity to provide their own reviews of shows. Did you see “The Times They Are A-Changin’?” E-mail us at

Conceived, directed and choreographed by Twyla Tharp, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” is a musical that is set entirely to Bob Dylan’s music.

Tharp’s previous concept musical, “Movin’ Out,” told a story through dance and the music of Billy Joel. But whereas that production followed a more conventional storytelling frame, “The Times They Are A-Changin’” is a looser tale, fable-like and dreamy and without any clear-cut plot.

The musical tells the story – such as it is – of a seedy traveling circus run by the even seedier, but charismatic, Captain Arab (Thom Sesma) and his willful son, Coyote (Michael Arden.)

Though I would be hard-pressed to explain a plot for this show, that’s not necessarily a criticism of the production. Arab is the tyrannical leader of a rowdy traveling circus; Coyote the rebellious son who longs for a different life. Both are in love with the same woman; both are lonely and searching for something.

Arab and Coyote sing their hearts out as they battle for the affections of a lovely animal-trainer named Cleo (Jenn Colella.) Arab is blistering; controlling, aloof and finally hopeless. Sesma’s character portrayal is perfection and he’s fun to watch.

The cast is rounded out with the “circus performers” – acrobats, dancers, clowns and people who are seemingly made of rubber and who amaze the audience with their skill. One cast member plays a dog with truly convincing and almost magical skill.

On the night I attended, the audience was enthralled by the production, which is Broadway-bound and has been extended twice at the Old Globe theater in Balboa Park. I’m sure this wasn’t just due to nostalgia at the Dylan songs, as the crowd gave standing ovations to Arden’s vocal performance and also showed their appreciation for the acrobatics of the dancers.

The stage décor captured the restless, lonely spirit of a low-rent traveling circus – a crescent moon dangling above the stage was impressing eye candy. In addition, the voices were strong and the arrangements of Dylan’s music worked well and sounded clear.

After the show, I heard one theatergoer exclaim that “It was great to be able to understand the lyrics.” I guess that’s in contrast to most people’s reaction to Dylan’s beloved-by-many-yet-rather-garbled twang in the original recordings.

Review-It-Yourself

Disappointed

I purposely went to the last show at the Globe on Sunday 19 March at 7:00pm. Thought I would catch the tail end of Draft 2, as it’s called, and possibly the beginning of a potential Draft 3. I came away thinking all drafts should be recalled and possibly note-and-filed.

Bob and Twylas 64th Dream

Saw the show down at the Old Globe where it was happenin

Bobs tunes to quite a few became the light that shined true

-Allan K. Wake, Spring Valley

The “Times They Are A-Changin’” and it Sucks

Twyla’s ‘vision’ is possibly one of the worst conglomerations of sensationalism and pretention since the ill-fated dance of the vampires with Michael Crawford. But at least that production was fun to watch go down in flames. I’ve seen hundreds of stage productions and I say this without a single shred of hesitation: this was the worst show I have ever seen. Ever.

And it’s not that I was clueless. I got it. I understood the badly strung-together symbology. I followed the Arab/Ahab throughline, the destruction of establishment, the existential dilemma of Coyote (who I guess would be the protagonist, but in this show who cares), etc. etc.. But behind all of this imagery is absolutely nothing. Not a single thing worth salvaging. This story has no need to be told. And if she wanted to write an escapist piece of musical theater akin to Cole Porter’s work during the war, then make it fun to sit through at least. It was TORTURE to watch Michael Arden come out and have to belt his way through another Dylan song while people jump around as if to say “ignore the fact this doesn’t make sense. Look at the pretty things!”

The actors and dancers are busting their rear ends for this disaster of a show (who, by the way, she is still rehearsing in between shows. Are you kidding me? Someone call the union for these poor kids). The performances are wonderful. The show is an absolute debacle.

At some point, the educated theater population has got to stand up and demand their jewel ‘American Musical Theater’ back from the producers who are literally destroying it at every turn. The Nederlanders just put up another two million dollars for Twyla to try to get this show into some semblance of shape. And even more shocking? She was granted a 10 week rehearsal period in NY before the opening. On top of the absurd rehearsals and changes she’s made in San Diego. Someone needs to pull the plug.

The real gem at The Old Globe is the flawed, but absolutely fascinating Lee Blessing play “Body of Water.” If people want to see the struggle of someone trying to find their place in this crazy world of ours, see Sandy Duncan absolutely SHINE in a completely new genre of theater.

-Jeffrey Franklin, NYC

Wildly Creative

The Old Globe deserves our gratitude for snaring the development of “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” and midwifing this wildly creative show for its Broadway debut. Bob Dylan’s songs never sounded as melodious, nor his poetry as lyrical, powerful and timely as they do in this operatic (all sung) production.

And, as she has done many times before, Twyla Tharp has again reinvented herself, by molding her dances into muscular acrobatics worthy of Cirque de Soleil. (Including a stilt-walker and contortionist.) Her gritty staging heightens the sense of danger conveyed by Dylan’s lyrics, and her choreography puts a discomforting edge on the story-line she weaves from his songs. The combination creates an enriching and thought-provoking spectacle, which keeps eyes, ears and soul filled long after one steps back into everyday life. While some of Dylan’s poetic ambiguities are lost in Tharp’s dramatic interpretation, she echoes their mystery in the movements, costumes and lighting of her dancing acrobats.

Last Sunday afternoon, the well-deserved standing ovation kept all of us in the audience on our feet, clapping and cheering through an unexpected series of musical and acrobatic fireworks, which followed the first full-cast bow.

-Dina Robinson, La Jolla

This year’s big hits were “Edward Scissorhands the Musical” by Mathew Bourn and “Billy Elliott” a musical. We enjoyed “Times” at the Globe more than anything London has had to offer for years.

The last time I enjoyed a 90 minute show as much was “Art”. The voices, dance, set, costumes were far superior to anything Andrew Lloyd Weber has done in years. This show would be hit in the West End and I look forward to seeing it again in 2007.

-Dave Stutz, La Jolla

Our Group Enjoyed the Show

My husband and I and the couple we were with loved the show and were thrilled that we had had an opportunity to see it. We saw it during the first week and the rest of the audience also loved it.

-Sue Braun, San Diego

Shabby Production

I don’t know why Twyla lent her name and talent to this production. What she is famous for – classically trained dancers doing breathtaking modern dance – is nowhere to be seen.

A shabby replacement I think this musical is. Shabby to look at and shabby in content. Volume at crisis level, too. As a devoted Tharp fan, I am disappointed.

The Union-Tribue reviewer, obviously a fan of Tharp’s and not wanting to be too negative, said Twyla should be congratulated on her full use of the stage. That talent was hardly enough to cover the substitution of acrobatics for dance.

– Lois Vogelsinger, San Diego

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