By John Quinn
Forgive me if I’ve gotten a little Anglophobic lately. The only “Royal Wedding” that interests me featured Jane Powell and Fred Astaire. But since the Meadow Brook Theatre’s latest offering, “Shout! The Mod Musical,” is a tribute to pop music from over four decades ago, it seemed likely to provide some relief from Windsor-Middleton burnout. That it did.
“Shout!” is a revue by Phillip George and David Lowenstein, interwoven with continuity (“Mod Musings” and “Groovy Gab”) by Mr. George and Peter Charles Morris. The roles are nameless – sort of Georgy Girl as Everygirl. The five Carnaby-clad characters are identified by the primary colors they wear: orange, green, blue, yellow and red. The “girls,” respectively, are Liz Griffith, Katie Hardy, Allison Hunt, Renee Turner and Charis Vaughn. These bright colored “birds” (ah, the slang of the era – groovy, baby!) revive 24 or so songs associated with girl singers of the Mod movement. Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Marianne Faithfull, Lulu and Shirley Bassey were little ladies with diaphragms to die for, and the show is quite the blast from the past. It does have another, deeper theme, though. While the sexual revolution hit early in the decade, other social conventions didn’t keep up. As the years roll by, the songs and stories reflect a growing frustration with the status quo that would break out in the feminist movements of the 1970s.
Given some really dreadful one-liners and amusing monologues, one might be reminded of “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in” with a whole lot of music. It’s an easy comparison. Vince Mountain’s set looks like Peter Max’s playground. The heavy graphics and odd combinations of color that were hallmarks of the period are faithfully rendered; what should look garish blend in a flower-childlike innocence.
What is striking, though, is how nicely this music has held up. If your introduction to the British Invasion was similar to mine, you first heard these songs on an AM radio in a Buick with a busted muffler. Hence, I, at least, was bringing a fresh ear to the occasion. The voices are uniformly strong and ably backed up by two keyboards and drums. One can enjoy the striking harmonies and complex percussion that give this music its distinctive flair. I offer a round of applause to music director Daniel Feyer and his partners, Jennifer Gale (keyboard) and Nick Matthews (drums). Stage director Travis W. Walter, MBT’s artistic director, presents us with retro gift in bright wrapping paper – paisley patterned, of course!
My grandfather hated swing, my father hated heavy metal and I’m not the target demographic for hip hop. It should come as no surprise that the enthusiastic opening night audience was largely of a certain age – a “Been there, done that, already used the tee shirt as a dust rag” age. In other words, MY age. However, there were a gratifying number of younger folk, who, if nothing else, learned what pop music SHOULD sound like.
No, I’m not goo-goo for Gaga, either.
‘Shout! The Mod Musical’
Meadow Brook Theatre, 207 Wilson Hall, Rochester. Wednesday-Sunday through May 15. $30-$39. 248-377-3300. http://www.mbtheatre.com