By George Basler
For young people, “Swinging London” of the 1960s probably seems as ancient as drawings from the caveman era. But, for those of a certain age, it brings back nostalgic memories when the British city was “groovy, baby” and one of the centers of pop culture world.
The scene resembled the vivid brightness of a technicolor movie filtered through the mind of Andy Warhol. Musicians performed songs that swept the world. Fashions, such as the miniskirt and white go-go boots, were all the rage. Carnaby Street was the psychedelic hangout of the Mod subculture.
Audience members can get a taste of this heady atmosphere, or relive it if they so desire, with Shout! The Mod Musical, which opened July 14 at the Chenango River Theatre in Greene.
The production, directed by Kory Yamada, follows the adventures of five young women as they live through “The Swinging 60s” and is high octane fun for much of its 90-minute running time.
The five talented cast members belt out 29 songs from that era and enthusiastically cavort across a colorful set, designed by Justin Hooper. The colorful costumes, designed by Julia Adams, reflect the era as well. But the show suffers a brief letdown in the second act when it veers from fluffy fun to more serious issues, notably domestic abuse. While the intent is laudable, the plot is too flimsy, and the characters too underdeveloped, for these moments to have much emotional impact.
Shout! was created by Philip George and David Lowenstein. It first appeared as a revue at The Duplex in New York City, then transferred to London in 2004 with spoken material added.
The five-member Chenango River Theatre cast works hard to successfully cover up the show’s shortcomings. And that’s an understatement. They are nothing short of sensational in their roles. Their energy is infectious, and their singing voices do justice to the songs, first made popular by the likes of Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Shirley Bassey. Yamada’s sure-handed direction keeps the action flowing smoothly.
The characters are unnamed and are written as stereotypes. “The Red Girl” (Lina Marie) is socially awkward. “The Blue Girl” (Kara Ann Scullin) is obsessed with her looks and the latest beauty tips. “The Orange Girl” (Alondra Hughes) is newly married and looking for wedded bliss. “The Yellow Girl” (Alex Lanning) is a brash American obsessed with Beatle Paul McCartney. “The Green Girl” (Kimberly Wilpon) is something of a tart who specializes in “loving and leaving” boyfriends. (Wilpon is also the production’s assistant choreographer.)
Each scene is introduced by characters reading snippets from Shout!, a teenage gossip magazine, and sending sincere letters to the magazine’s advice columnist, Gwendolyn Holmes, who answers with ludicrously bad advice. (The voice-over role is played by Dori May Ganisin.)
George and Lowenstein were apparently trying to show the changing attitudes of the women through the 60s. But the story line remains paper thin. Some lame jokes don’t help. (Example: “Like my new mini dress? You don’t have to go to Australia to see down under.”)
Shout! works best as a revue of songs and dances that showcase the bright pop songs of the era. Thankfully this production is engagingly entertaining thanks to the efforts of the cast. Hughes and Lanning are standouts as singers. Marie has some touching moments as the awkward “Red Girl.” Scullin is satirically funny as “The Blue Girl,” and Wilpon is brassy and funny as “The Green Girl.”
The performers shine in their solos and work well together in ensemble numbers. One standout is when the five women get a little buzzed on marijuana and act out a risqué parody of the title song from the James Bond film Goldfinger.
In the last few numbers, the women change costumes to reflect the change from the 1960s to the 1970s. What these numbers accomplish superbly well is to wrap up the show on a joyful high note.
Scullin leads cast members on a rousing rendition of the song “Shout!”, followed by “Pictures from the Past” and then “Downtown.” Audience members, at the performance I attended, were soon singing and clapping along. At the end, virtually everyone was on their feet. A richly deserved standing ovation followed.
A swinging band, led by Vicky Gordon on piano and featuring Karen Clark on keyboard 2 and Micha Neiss on percussion provided rock-solid accompaniment.
Plan to be transported back to the 1960s and enjoy.
IF YOU GO: Performances of Shout! The Mod Musical are 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Aug. 6 at the Chenango River Theater, 991 State Highway 12, Greene. Tickets are $30. For reservations, call the box office at 607-656-8499, or visit www.chenangorivertheatre.org.