The Twyla, she ain’t a-changin’

January 6, 2010

I never got around to the best/worst theatre of the decade list I was going to write last week, but now I have an excuse to talk about the gloriously worst show I’ve seen, not just this decade, but ever. Here is a small taste of the admirable dreadfulness:

I was privileged enough to witness this hot mess in the flesh, thanks to my friend Sam who scored us some cheap tickets and e-mailed me saying “I hear there are dancing clowns and trampolines. We can’t possibly miss this.” And oh, there were dancing clowns and trampolines. And oh, we couldn’t possibly miss it.

You know how when you’re a kid, and the height of choreography is to act out the lyrics from songs? That’s how Twyla Tharp choreographed The Times, They Are A-Changin’. See, for example, the black pilates balls that the clowns are rolling across the stage. Like rolling stones. Later on, during the song “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”, during the lyric “knock knock knocking on heaven’s door”, a group of clowns equipped with flashlights surround the villain (who – SPOILER ALERT – is about to die and is therefore knocking on heaven’s door himself) and make a door-knocking motion with their flashlight-wielding hands as they sing. Tharp interprets every single one of Dylan’s bizarre lyrical metaphors with straight-faced literalness.

Here’s what it’s about: The hero works for his evil uncle, who owns a traveling circus and wields a tyrannical fist over all his employees, including this one woman (I’m not sure what her actual job is, but she sweeps a lot and you better believe she breaks just like a little girl) whom they are both (evil uncle and heroic guitar-playing nephew) in love with her. Meanwhile, a bunch of clowns, acrobats, and people wearing dog ear headbands jump around on the in-stage trampolines to Dylan’s music. It’s so baffling it might just be a work of pure genius. But I’m pretty sure that’s not the case.

I heard a rumour that it all came about because Dylan, having heard of Tharp’s massive success with Billy Joel’s songs in Movin’ Out (the most financially successful dance show of all time, I think?) approached her to do something similar with his own music (he is a greedy sell-out, after all). So maybe Tharp just decided to punk him with A-Changin’.

But why am I telling you now all about this terrible show I saw three years ago? Because Tharp is coming back to Broadway and she’s bringing Frank Sinatra down with her. I can only assume she’ll be doing it her way. And I can’t wait.

5 Responses to “The Twyla, she ain’t a-changin’”

  1. i was incapable of watching that entire video and now i am sad.

  2. Alison Says:

    Incapable because it was so terrible, or incapable because of technical difficulties and now sad at what you missed out on?

  3. No technical difficulties. I just used to like Bob Dylan.

  4. Alison Says:

    Yeah, that was the general reaction to the show.

  5. […] I am secretly excited to go see this production of the baffling flop High Fidelity: The Musical. I love flop musicals anyway, but High Fidelity strikes me as a particularly odd choice for musical adaptation. Just […]

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