Positively Broadway; When Twyla Met Bob: A Fascinating Train Wreck?
Gates, David, Newsweek
Byline: David Gates
Many people who revere Bob Dylan already know what they think of the Broadway musical "The Times They Are A-Changin'." Granted, it was Dylan who approached the choreographer Twyla Tharp after her hit show with Billy Joel's songs--but I planned to blame it all on Tharp anyway. To make your attitude still worse, you walk into the Brooks Atkinson Theatre and hear a band tuning up. They're not dancing to Dylan's own recordings? We have to sit through Broadway singers ? If I'd walked out, this would've been more fun to write.
So Tharp is welcome to put this in the newspaper ads: I DON'T KNOW WHAT TO THINK--NEWSWEEK. It sure held my attention, so it must've been a success, right? But a success at what?
Tharp has strung together 26 Dylan songs, early and late, to deliver a "fable" about a father-son struggle--like the story of Abraham and Isaac, which kicks off the second number, "Highway 61 Revisited." And there's an ingenue to stir the pot--or just because you can't have a show without one. Naturally, not every word of every song connects to Tharp's sketchy plot: by theatrical standards, the numbers offer as many tangents as signposts. But they sort of get the job done. And you can always just watch an intelligent, ingenious and witty choreographer at work.
The aging Captain Ahrab (from "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream") is a sinister, cynical ringmaster, whose circus performers include his fresh-faced son Coyote and a comely runaway named Cleo. (You know she's a runaway because it says so in the Playbill.) Yep, the kids are in love and the old man is nostalgic, envious, defiant. After the setup, it gets murky: dancing, acrobatics, love duets, confrontations. We gather that Ahrab dies while singing "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." At any rate, five more numbers go by and we don't see him again until curtain call.
The fiercely energetic Thom Sesma plays Ahrab in makeup that evokes both the present-day Dylan and Christopher Lee's Dracula. In "Summer Days, Summer Nights," Sesma makes Ahrab a crepuscular hellrake, running on fumes at 90 miles an hour, even though "the girls all say, 'You're a worn-out star'. …