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Shout! The Mod Musical

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

Okay, it's a couple of grooves short of groovy. But Shout!: The Mod Musical, which just watusied open at the Julia Miles Theatre, is a surprisingly shagadelic shindig. While it will be most appreciated by those who adore the clothes, the dances, and especially the tunes of the 1960s and early '70s, even hardcore cynics and '60s deniers will have a hard time resisting Shout!'s full bouffant bounty.

Yes, you'll have to check your brain at the door, an unfortunate prerequisite for nearly all pop-collection shows these days, whether of the revue (such as Shout!) or book-musical variety. But even so, Phillip George and David Lowenstein's harmless show is more stylish and inventive than it has to be, at least as long as the five women in the cast are left alone to sing and dance their hearts out.

They would be Marie-France Arcilla, Erin Crosby, Julie Dingman Evans, Erica Schroeder, and Casey Clark (replacing Denise Summerford at the performance I attended), who truly prove themselves a fab fivesome as they work through a rowdy roster of '60s and '70s favorites. With dedicated diligence that never gives way to winking, they tackle songs like "Son of a Preacher Man," "Downtown," and "Those Were the Days" with a spirit that might make you temporarily forget these songs' original versions.

And when they stop singing? Well, it's best not to dwell on that. The dialogue (by George and Peter Charles Morris) is as synthetic as the fabrics of the getups on which Philip Heckman based his capricious costumes; it's euphemistically referred to in the program as "Mod Musings," "Groovy Gab," and (my favorite) "Continuity," none of which successfully obscures the fact it's just not that good. ("I love my new vinyl boots, but I hate to think how many vinyls they had to kill to make them" is the height of this show's wit.)

Its primary contribution is setting up the concept of these five "characters" (I'm being generous) being defined by the colors they wear - Red is the mess, Orange the domestic, Yellow the emotional, Green the slut, and Blue the poised - and proceeding through the decade with the help of Shout!: The Magazine for the Modern Woman.

Many of the scenes, as such, take the form of articles or advertisements, such as about the dangers of marijuana (leading to an eyebrow-raising rendition of "Goldfinger"), the wonders of "The Man Test," or the cluelessness of a stodgy, old-fashioned advice columnist (voiced by Carole Shelley). They might moderately amuse (Arcilla's struggles with skin cream and Clark experiencing the side effects of The Pill are worth a chuckle or two), but never match the music's vivacity.

So just patiently wait for the next song - whatever it is, it doesn't matter - to raise the energy of the proceedings. Much of that excitement derives from Lowenstein's choreography, which resuscitates every '60s step imaginable without ever mocking (Schroeder's shimmying is a particular delight), though David Gallo's psychedelic set and Jason Lyons's disco-flavored lighting do their share.

But the music's the thing here, and the cast and musical director- orchestrator- arranger Bradley Vieth and his two bandmates make sure it gets its due. Sure, you might have done The Swim and heard "I Know a Place," "I Only Wanna Be With You," "1-2-3," "Diamonds Are Forever," and "All I See is You" more times than you'd care to admit. But with a cast this strong, and a concept that doesn't insult your intelligence (even if it doesn't engage it), what's wrong with taking the plunge at least once more?


Shout! The Mod Musical
Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission
Julia Miles Theater, 424 West 55th Street between 9th & 10 Avenues
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge