by Linda Amiel Burns
A Taste of Things To Come, an original musical based on four women’s lives in the 1950’s & 60’s, sparkles at the York Theatre for a limited run.
What a joy to visit the newly refurbished York Theatre and see this delightful new musical, A Taste of Things To Come, with book, music and lyrics by Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin, inspired by the experiences (and recipes) of Hollye’s mother. Lorin Latarro makes a remarkable directorial debut (doing double duty as the choreographer) and keeps the entire production continually moving, exciting and fun. The all female band is led by Gillian Berkowitz on piano, Ann Klein on Electric & Acoustic Guitar, Barbara Merjan on Drums & Percussion, and Sue Williams on Upright & Electric Bass. The York now has a beautiful new red curtain and when it is pulled open, a terrific set designed by Steven C. Kemp is revealed.
The year is 1957 when we meet four woman in their twenties who live in the center of the country, Winnetka, Illinois. They gather weekly in the kitchen of homemaker Joan Smith (Paige Faure) in hopes of winning the Betty Crocker cooking contest, dreaming of how the prize money would change their lives. The other members of the Winnetka Woman’s Club are Dottie O’Farrell (Allison Guinn) who is stressed, overweight and already the mother of four children, Connie Olsen (Autumn Hurlbert), who was once the prom queen, is now in her ninth month about to give birth to her first child, and Agnes Crookshank (Janet Dacal) is still single, not anxious to rush into marriage, and dreams of a life on the stage.
The cooking is secondary to the friendship and we see this when they sing “Cookin” as they chop, mix, and plan the meal for the contest. These weekly get-togethers are their only opportunity to talk about their lives and share their hopes and dreams. The song “Dear Abby” is sung by the group as woman of that era turned to columnist Abigail Van Buren for advice. The group sings “Just in Case” when it is discovered that Dottie takes pills to deal with her life, and Agnes belts out “I’m Outta Here,” telling the girls that she doesn’t want to wind up like them and has ambitions beyond their suburban lives.
The era of the 50’s was a time when woman’s choices were limited to finding a husband, and becoming good wives and mothers. However, many were getting antsy as other messages began to seep in. Women began to see the possibilities of another life for themselves as Rock n’ Roll was beginning, racial barriers were cracking, the Korean War was over, the Cold War had begun and The Kinsey Report was published. At the end of Act I, the women find themselves “In Limbo,” the song they sing as Connie is about to give birth to a child who might not be her husband’s.
When the second act opens, we find ourselves in 1967 and Joan has redecorated her home in 60’s style, and the band is now seen onstage. During the intervening years, their lives have changed as the Vietnam War is raging, people are protesting, and attitudes are different. The women sing “Ten Years” as it has been that long since the Woman’s Club has dissolved and “Betty Crocker has now been replaced by Betty Friedan.” This is the first time that they have seen each other in all that time and Joan has called them together for a reason. She has become a writer and has a column, Dottie has had two more children and sings “Just a Mom” as the woman reassure her that with six children that is an important job. Connie now lives in Trinidad, and Agnes is soap star named Maria Magenta.
A Taste of Things To Come is a wonderful new musical and has a lot to say about how the times influence our lives, how slowly progress comes about. It begins at a time when women were taught to believe that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, and finally the women discover that the way to their own hearts is through having best friends who support them. The original score by Barsha and Levin (who also wrote the book) is quite exceptional and reflects the tone and popular songs of both decades. The show is thoroughly enjoyable and the cast couldn’t be any more perfect as these four talented performers all shine, and their brilliant performances help us to understand their individual journeys.
Too bad that this “delicious and saucy” new show A Taste of Things To Come has only a short run, because this outstanding musical deserves to be seen and hopefully will move to an off Broadway theater. As Jim Morgan, the Producing Artistic Director of the York, says in the program that is “a story from a simpler time, about people coming together and bonding over shared interests and passions, it is leavened with some great songs. Perhaps it’s an object lesson for where our country needs to be these days.”
This is a limited run thru December 11th – Reservations: 212 935-5820 Visit: www.YorkTheatre.org.
The York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s (619 Lexington Avenue, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue).
Photos: Carol Rosegg