Off Broadway Reviews
Things start promisingly enough as we settle into the kitchen of Joan Smith (Paige Faure), a tart and smart young woman living in Winnetka, Illinois, in 1957. Every Wednesday, she and her best girlfriends get together to cook, gossip, and just have a good time, and since it just happens to be Wednesday, it's not long before we also meet the perpetually (and, apparently, happily) single Agnes Crookshank (Janet Dacal); the quintessential housewife and mom of four, Dottie O'Farrell (Allison Guinn); and the very pretty, very pregnant, young married Connie Olsen (Autumn Hurlbert), whose delivery date is in three days.
Although there's technically a through linecan the four whip up an international menu scintillating enough to win $50,000 in the Betty Crocker cooking competition?it's not much more than a flimsy excuse for dispensing watery period-styled songs; there's a doo-woppy one about Dear Abby, one about the silly rumors they traffic in, one about the joy of cocktails, one about the joy of sex (as seen through the lens of the recently released Kinsey report), and "In Limbo," which crosses emotional confusion with the Trinidad dance craze. It's all peppy (the fine musical direction is by Gillian Berkowitz), but rather unavoidably pointless.
This doesn't change even when, of course, secrets are bared, feelings are hurt, and rifts are formed that would take approximately a decade to healsomething that becomes a possibility considering that the second act is set in 1967. At that point, long hair, free love, civil rights, and expanding attitudes have taken over, and the women have not been immune, even though they've changed about as much as the times around them have. Naturally the music has changed, too, with edges of funk and edgier pop leaking into these previously well-ordered lives and forcing them all to see things as they never have before. It's not necessarily a bad idea, even if The Marvelous Wonderettes (its jukebox score notwithstanding) got there first. But it doesn't feel organic.
The ladies fit into such tidy compartments, in both decades, that it seems as though Barsha and Levin are more interested in making grand statements about the changing of women's attitudes than telling a story about these particular women. They're more symbols, of perspectives on sex, ethnicity, or tradition, than they are vibrant personalities on their own, and, more crucially, their transformations are not easily believable. Joan, Agnes, and Connie are just too different between the acts, and the explanations for how they've evolved are, at best, eye-rolling. (Don't ask, for example, why Agnes has suddenly become a no-holds barred Latina.) Dottie is a conservative homemaker in both years, and is thus much more interesting, as you're better able to observe the nuances that have come to define her and her relationships. Because the other women become all but unrecognizable, their actual development is harder to recognize, let alone accept.
Hurlbert and Dacal give the cleanest, most enjoyable performances, coming across as both the funniest and the most genuine, even if their characters' wackiness stretches the limits of credulity way too far. Faure's ironic approach to her part is a bit too on-the-nose and Guinn's horn-rimmed-glasses-wearing matron verges on (sometimes dips her foot into) caricature, but they're good enough. So are the staging and choreography (by Lorin Latarro), which are hamstrung primarily by the goofy script, and the cozy design (the set is by Steven C. Kemp, the costumes by Dana Burkart, the lights by Nathan W. Scheuer, and the video projections but Justin West) that escorts you softly through an era of true social tumult.
That A Taste of Things to Come avoids it in most real ways is a problem even bigger than the show's overall genericnessyou have to break some eggs, and all that, and Barsha and Levin don't. That might be why their most successful songs are the two that are more about introspection than pastiche: "Blessing in Disguise," in which they realize their potential, and the finale, "In Time," in which they realize where that potential may lead them. There's heart in these numbers that's attractive, even moving, in part because of how little attention is called to it. They're just right: done all the way through, but just a tiny bit soft at the center. The rest of this well-intentioned musical, though, is overbaked.
A Taste of Things to Come