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Photo Credit :: Sara Krulwich
Arts & Entertainment
The Times They Are A-Changin'
By Mark Thompson & Robert Doyle
November 2, 2006 
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Equal parts Cirque de Soleil and American Idol, Twyla Tharp’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ confirms it: the vox populi now dictates the cultural aesthetic.

Visually arresting, thanks to Santo Loquasto’s imaginative set – a sort of homage to Depression-era carnivals – and wildly energetic, thanks to a talented corps of Tharp’s tried-and-true favorites, the show as a whole is significantly less than the sum of its dynamic parts.

All three leads, singers rather than singer-dancers (and barely dancers), come across as contestants for the audience’s final vote. There’s no question these people can sing – but to what end? What are they singing for? Not often to each other, and rarely in service to the narrative.

Often as incoherent as a dream, the storyline concerns a father-son dynamic, with a woman tossed into the mix as a sort of bouncing ball between the two males. As played by Lisa Brescia, the female lead, identified in the program as “Cleo, a runaway” (and given her style of singing, she might well have run away from the Grand Ole Opry), is too old for the son as played by a barely-able-to-shave Michael Arden, and their scenes read tentative, as if she’s fearful of robbing the cradle. Thom Sesma, as Captain Ahrab, the abusive father, has riveting stage presence, and in “Desolation Row” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” two numbers which are beautifully and dramatically staged, his character reveals aspects of his being which give the audience something to cling to, something to care about – if only for a few minutes.

The show works best when the clown corps is in full frantic motion, and in the movements of these seven gifted dancers, it’s possible to discern character. Using only movement and occasional sounds, the dancers ultimately make these clowns more fully realized than the father, son, and lady love.

More a dance company recital at times, only to then become a singing competition a few minutes later, The Times They Are A-Changin’ too often gives the impression of being at the mercy of someone with a fidgety finger on the remote control.

Perhaps most sadly, the show misses an opportunity to substantiate the timely relevance of Bob Dylan’s music and lyrics at this point in American history. Without the incendiary music of the times, the social protests of the Sixties might not have swept the nation. Forty years later, Dylan’s music still has much to teach the American citizenry – but it’s going to take a whole lot more than a visit to this circus.