There was a huge flurry of stories in the press to greet the announcement that the new Twyla Tharp / Bob Dylan musical The Times They Are A-Changin’ is definitely on the road to Broadway in the fall. One, however, sticks out above the rest in terms of substance, and that’s from the New York Post: My Back Stages.
It was the same NY Post which originally reported the story (back in August of 2004) that Dylan had approached Tharp about creating a musical based on his songs. Now, the Post talked directly to Tharp about the show that has been created, and dished details that eluded the rest of the media. Namely, that the show will open in New York specifically at the Brooks Atkinson Theater in the fall. And before that it will spend some time during the summer in Chicago for further tweaking. And some stuff on Dylan’s reaction:
Dylan, who saw an early preview, has given the project his blessing and is said, in fact, to be eager to see it on Broadway.
Not only because he likes it – which he does, very much – but also because, according to sources, he’s looking forward to those big fat royalty checks that can flow from a hit show.
The great icon of the ’60s counterculture has already cashed in his catalog to Victoria’s Secret and Starbucks, so why not try to ring a few more bucks out of it on the Great White Way?
Well, a little biting NY Post type spin there; fair enough.
The more interesting stuff is what Tharp tells the Post about the genesis of the musical.
When Dylan, a big fan of “Movin’ Out,” approached Tharp about fashioning a show from his songs, the first thing she did was listen to them – all 1,000 of them, covering his youthful folk period, his heavy rocker middle-age, his Christian revival maturity.
“As is my wont, I did my research,” Tharp says. “I listened to all the recordings and I read everything about Bob I could find.”
A few things jumped out at her.
First, she noticed the circus imagery in Dylan’s lyrics.
She was also struck by two album covers.
One, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” his second recording, portrayed the singer in a sheepskin coat “looking cherubic,” says Tharp.
Another, “Time Out of Mind,” a later album, revealed an older, darker, shopworn Dylan.
“You look at those two pictures and you wonder: Holy moly, what happened?”
From her those observations [sic], Tharp concocted “The Times They Are A- Changin,’ ” a dreamlike fable set in a seedy traveling circus run by a tyrannical ringmaster, who’s at odds with his sensitive young son.
“This show is about the two guys,” says Tharp. “They are split personalities.”
All along, RWB has believed that Dylan played a major role in the basic plot of the show. Could Right Wing Bob be wrong?
Well, I like to take people’s statements at face value unless there’s a compelling reason not to, so I have to assume that Tharp is being honest when she says that she is indeed responsible for both the setting and the themes of this show. And if so, great kudos are due to her, because she certainly seems to have internalized some key elements of Dylan’s own work and created a stage show which reflects them. It was awfully difficult for me to conceive of someone other than Dylan coming up with a scenario like a Captain Arab oppressing his poor son Coyote and Cleo the animal trainer in a traveling circus … and it was hard for me to conceive that Dylan would approach Tharp about doing a stage musical without having some of his own ideas to put on the table.
Nevertheless, so it seems to be, according to Twyla’s own words. Hats off to her. And I can’t wait to see it.
Back to the NY Post:
Variety, while praising the show’s emotional impact, said the “carnival world just never convinces.”
Critics also complained about the lack of dancing and narrative coherence, though several added that if Tharp can fix the show’s problems, it could generate considerable excitement in New York.
Tharp has sifted through the reviews and is going to hone the storytelling and add more dancing.
“Movin’ Out” was in much worse shape out of town than this show is, and Tharp turned that one into a winner. Don’t bet against her this time.