A Taste of Things to Come
At the Broadway Playhouse
By Dan Zeff
Chicago—One thing is undeniable about “A Taste of Things to Come” at the Broadway Playhouse. This modest musical gives a home to a first rate pair of composer-lyricists in Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin who are handsomely served by a quartet of outstanding singer-dancer-actors. The show is a lightweight but entertaining. If that sounds like faint praise, so be it.
The musical taps into the nostalgia theme, scarcely an underserved part of the modern musical theater. In the first act, set in 1957, four young women gather for their weekly Wednesday night cooking club session, uniting to try to win a big prize in the national Betty Crocker cooking contest. Barsha and Levin attempt to give the characters individual personalities, but there is an aura of stereotype that hovers over all of them.
The locale, for no announced reason, is Wilmette, Illinois. The hostess is Joan Smith (Cortney Wolfson), a pretty blonde with a bright smile. Dottie (Marissa Rosen) is the group hausfrau, a Wife and Mother with four children, and counting. Connie (Libby Servais) is expecting her first child. All three are married. Agnes (Linedy Genao) is single and not happy about it.
The first act is consumed with 1950’s tropes, with the Barsha-Levin songs capturing the vanilla sound of the music of the Eisenhower years. The women gossip and dream a little and by the end of the act they have fallen out, hurt feelings threatening to break up that old gang of theirs.
Fast-forward to the second act, set 10 years later when the reunited women up the narrative ante on what had been a sitcom first act. Three of the women have radically changed their lives, caught up in the social turmoil of the time. They dress like characters out of “Hair” and one after the other they reveal secrets, primarily ethnic, concealed from their friends back in 1957. All the misunderstandings that broke them up 10 years ago are healed and the quartet unite in a tsunami of “We shall overcome” feminist good feeling.
The comedy may occasionally descend into the silly, but a lot of talent has gone into the music and the performances. If you want to hear four of the most expressive and technically accomplished singing voices anywhere in Chicagoland just now, “A Taste of Things to Come” is at your service.
Dottie belts out the best number of the evening, “Just a Mom,” as a fierce defense of the woman who stays home to keep a house and raise a family, even though there is a sneaking envy for the girlfriends who have gone out in the world to carve out exciting lives. Dottie is tired of feeling apologetic about devoting herself to the housewife life and the Barsha-Levin lyrics give her a powerful platform to state her case. The intensity and literacy of the song suggest that the two have a serious musical in their future.
A four-piece rock band accompanies the performers and a glance at the playbill identifies all of the musicians as female. They are out of sight for the first act but come into resplendent full view in the final act like the potent rock band they are, led by musical director Kara Kesselring.
The production is directed by Lorin Latarro, who also choreographed the show with great zest. Latarro has been with “A Taste…” since its off Broadway run in 2016 and she know how to maximize its strengths. The design team consists of Steven Kemp (set), Dana Burkhart (costumes), Nathan Scheuer (lighting and projections), and Daniel J. Gerhard (sound). They have combined their skills to make “A Taste of Things to Come” a most polished production.
This musical was never made for a Broadway theater and even Broadway Playhouse may be a little spacious for such an intimate show. It might be better suited to a theater like the Apollo, Royal George, or Mercury in Chicago. But the playhouse does remain a modern and comfortable venue in the tourist heavy upper Michigan Avenue area.
The show ends on an upbeat feminist note, but the time was 50 years ago and it’s obvious with all that dedication and enthusiasm there is still work to be done. Still, the #MeToo campaign and the demands for diversity indicate the cause still generates considerable heat.
“A Taste of Things to Come” doesn’t carry the weight of a major statement about women’s liberation in the 21st century but I don’t think it tries to resolve issues that have remained unresolved for half a century. The show gathers a group of high quality talents who have the ability to amuse and even slip in a pungent slice of social criticism (“Just a Mom”). Rather than be criticized as simplistic or obvious, it should be recognized for providing a first rate array of stage and behind the scenes talent. It doesn’t reach high enough to merit four stars but it earns its three stars very honorably.
The show gets a rating of
“A Taste of Things to Come” runs through April 29 at the Broadway Playhouse, 175 East Chestnut Street. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30 to $75. Call 800 775 2000 or visit www.BroadwayinChicago.com.
Contact Dan at: ZeffDaniel@yahoo.com. March 2018
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