Go back in time to the Swinging Sixties with this production at The Players Centre for Performing Arts.
If Austin Powers wrote a musical, “Shout! The Mod Musical” would be it. (To give due credit, Phillip George and David Lowenstein created the music, and Peter Charles Morris and Phillip George wrote the book.) As you might expect, it’s groovy, fab, mod, hip, gear and onstage at The Players Centre for Performing Arts. Yeah, baby.
Seriously, folks, there’s nothing serious about this musical. It unfolds in the swinging ’60s and folds up in 1970. The action revolves around five young women. They have no names. Fortunately, they are color-coded.
Blue Girl (Melissa Ingrisano) is a blue-blooded fashion model. She has the look, and she knows it. Green Girl (Amanda Heisey) is a party girl and no Puritan. Orange Girl (Alyssa Goudy) is mature and maternal — the designated adult. Red Girl (Lexi Lowther) is bubbly, naive and insecure about her looks. Yellow Girl (Noelia Altamirano) is a free-spirited American expat who stalks Paul McCartney in her spare time. (Ultraviolet Girl is presumably invisible.)
Like The Beatles, these birds all hang out in the same London flat. They’re obsessed with pop culture. A fictional magazine called “Shout!” delivers their latest obsessions, along with life tips from Gwendolyn Holmes’ advice column. This comes in the form of a disembodied voice from the sky. Her advice is inevitably bad.
When they’re not cracking “Laugh-In”-style one-liners, the girls groove to chart-toppers from the mod era. The hit parade includes Lulu’s “To Sir with Love,” Petula Clark’s “Downtown,” Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger.” As you might expect, most of the original singers were British and female. All-American exceptions include Roger Miller (“England Swings”), Nancy Sinatra (“These Boots Are Made for Walkin’”) and the Isley Brothers (“Shout”). Those brothers aren’t Brits as far as I know. Unless Cincinnati is a suburb of Leeds.
Aside from the signs of the times, there’s no overarching storyline. The musical shuffles through mod selections as each singer takes her turn in the spotlight. Music matches mood. If the song being performed is about a breakup, the singer just had one. If the song is happy, so is she.
As the 1960s wind down, the singers grow up. The more liberated they get, the less they care about fads and fashion. They start thinking for themselves and ultimately reject the lousy counsel of the disembodied advice columnist.
Brian Finnerty is both the director and the choreographer of this kicky affair. He’s inventive as always. The dance number for “Goldfinger” alone is worth the price of admission. He gets fine performances from the talented, exuberant cast. (The whole rainbow appears to be having fun.) Kudos also to Jeffrey Weber’s pop art-inspired set, a mod variation of Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and the spangled, rainbow colors of Tim Beltley’s costumes. Ethan Vail’s lighting has the feel of a psychedelic ’60s nightclub.
It’s a great musical, aside from a few missteps. One medley throws “Windy” and “Georgie Girl” in a blender. It’s clever, but the songs deserve better.
The show is lighthearted and occasionally lightheaded. There’s some serious subtext — including allusions to social injustice and the repression of women, as well as clever jokes about the pill. But “Shout!” never takes itself too seriously.
Bottom line? You’ll have a great time, even if the songs are before your time. The people around me certainly did.
At the end, the musical felt like a music hall. The audience was clapping and singing along to “Downtown.”
How groovy is that?