Four appealing actresses turn on the comic and women’s lib heat in a new musical, “A Taste of Things to Come,” presented by the York Theatre Company in association with Staci Levine and What’s Cookin’ LLC. Book, music and lyrics are by Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin, with orchestrations and dance arrangements by Barsha with Lena Gabrielle, and vocal arrangements by Barsha. Lorin Latarro did the spiffy direction and spirited choreography, and Gillian Berkowitz was responsible for the music direction.
First we meet the women, who live in Winnetka, Illinois, and gather for one of their cooking club sessions in 1957 in a kitchen (nicely designed by Steven C. Kemp), where on this occasion they practice recipes for a Betty Crocker cooking contest. All live in the domestic world women were supposed to inhabit at the time, and the bouncy songs in the period style fit in satirically with their lifestyles. Yet there is also a venting of frustrations. Toward the end of the first act, despite all the talent, the sameness in tone can get a bit cloying, although we sense that rebellion may be in the air as the women nurse their unfulfilled dreams.
What I hoped would happen in the second act does. Jump to 1967 and there is a decided change in the women, now in the throes of women’s lib talk of the 60s a la Betty Friedan, as well as a general cultural loosening up. Yes, pot comes into the picture. The women’s lives have changed too, and so has the music.
Four delightful actresses give spirited performances in both acts. Paige Faure plays Joan Smith, who hosts her friends in her kitchen in Act 1. She wants to be a writer and is taking journalism classes. By Act 2 she is successful writing an advice column.
Allison Guinn plays Dottie O’Farrell, a mom with kids who seems rooted to the homebody life. She winsomely carries much of the comedy in the show. She can be absolutely hilarious, but in Act 2 she has a knockout of a turn singing “Just a Mom.”
Janet Decal portrays Agnes Crookshank who in the 1950s longs to head for city action and achieve stardom. In the 1960s we learn what she has accomplished.
Autumn Hurlbert has an especially interesting trajectory as Connie Olsen, who is pregnant. By Act 2 she is back from living abroad, where she went because of her interracial marriage and feared it would be frowned upon in the 50s. She’s still wary, but her friends assure her that things are different.
There are secrets to be revealed in Act 2, as the women have kept some basic facts hidden. The book wraps up quite a bit in too pat a fashion—too much neatly falling into place. But interjected are terrific performance turns.
Faure as Joan, who has great physical moves, a wide range of expressions and a mighty voice leads the company in an oddball song called “The Whomp,” a joyous expression of coming into one’s own. Another sure-fire number is “Blessing in Disguise” sung by Decal as Agnes and Hurlbert as Connie, along with the others.
There’s a nifty all-woman band consisting of Gillian Berkowitz, on piano and conducting; Ann Klein on electric and acoustic guitar; Barbara Merjan, drums and percussion, and Sue Williams, upright and electric bass.
One comes away admiring how well the cast can act and sing, and how much the music and lyrics succeed in typifying two different eras for women as seen by the show’s creators and obviously a subject they very much want to illuminate. At The York Theatre at St. Peter’s, 619 Lexington Avenue. Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed November 19, 2016.