The friendships of four very different women are put to the test in A Taste of Things to Come, a new musical by Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin at the York Theatre Company. An empowering tale receiving its premiere at the perfect time in our nation's history, it's an honest, heartfelt look at what it takes to survive when the values you once held dear are torn apart in favor of new ones.
Meet the "Wednesday Winnetka Women," a quartet of Illinois twentysomethings whose biggest daily outward struggle is to get through their chores and still have dinner on the table by the time their husbands get home. Joan Smith (Paige Faure) is the leader of the group, a childless housewife who prizes her Betty Crocker cookbook and is secretly taking journalism classes. Connie Olsen (Autumn Hurlbert) is expecting her first baby and is prone to crying jags. The sexy and single Agnes Crookshank (Janet Dacal) has dreams of hopping in a car and driving straight to fame and fortune in the Big Apple. And then there's Dottie O'Farrell (Allison Guinn), the harried mom of several kids.
In the first act, set in 1957, the women have come together to enter a Betty Crocker cooking contest. But change is in the air. The comfortable conformity of Dottie's life doesn't match Agnes' desires, or Joan's dreams of having her own syndicated column. By intermission, their conflicting views have caused all hell to break loose. When the curtain rises on Act 2, a decade has passed, and the women are irrevocably different, having moved on "from Betty Crocker to Betty Friedan." Joan, now the Dear Abby-style writer she's always wanted to be, has invited her pals over for a dine-and-dish session that ends with the revelation of a secret or three.
Though the script (credited to Barsha and Levin) is thin, the secrets not so surprising, and the central conflict too easily resolved, the writers have supplemented their dialogue with a flavorsome score of tunes that expertly shift in style with the times. Bubblegum pop and doo-wop give way to a more psychedelic sound, with smart, witty lyrics throughout. (This may even be the first musical since Kiss Me, Kate to reference the Kinsey Report.) A four-member, all-female band led by Gillian Berkowitz plays with gusto.
Under the direction of veteran Broadway choreographer Lorin Latarro (Waitress), the four-member cast of A Taste of Things to Come perform their roles with zest. Faure, whose character narrates, makes for a sociable hostess through this rapidly developing society. Dacal and Hurlbert share a share a beautiful eleven o'clock duet called "Blessing in Disguise," in which they realize how their life choices made them the women they are today. And Guinn turns in a dazzling comic performance that provokes very hearty belly laughs.
The action is set against a sea foam green 1950s kitchen (designed by Steven C. Kemp), which later gives way to a distinctly 1960s living room. To start, the women are attired in I Love Lucy-style housedresses (costumes by Dana Burkart) before evolving appropriately as we enter into the era of "free love." Bright lighting (by Nathan W. Scheuer) gives a sunny shine to the proceedings before things take a darker turn. Justin West's excellent projections serve as humorous commentary on the action.
In the end, A Taste of Things to Come doesn't set the world on fire, but it does provide an important reminder of how one must expand his or her mind in order to adapt to a rapidly changing world. It's a message that should never be forgotten.