Shout! The Mod Musical is not only the most tolerable musical revue I've seen to date, but also the most enjoyable. With more substance than The Taffetas and less forced plot than The Marvelous Wonderettes, this girl-group celebration of 1960s songs is both cohesive and a whole lot of fun, especially given the Timber Lake Playhouse's current staging of it.
Director Courtney Crouse takes us on a tour of 1960s sensibilities regarding women's roles and relationships, as four British women and one American woman living in England write letters to advice columnist Gwendolyn Holmes (who is heard, but never seen) and read her replies in Shout! magazine. Their responses to her dated advice are consequently shared in the form of pop tunes of the era, including "Downtown," "Son of a Preacher Man," and "To Sir with Love."
Instead of names, the characters are given colors assigned by a Shout! magazine personality test. The Yellow Girl (Daryn Harrell) is loud, uninhibited, and rude. The Red Girl (Caroline Murrah) is young, quirky, and naïve. The Blue Girl (Lexie Plath) is beautiful and knows it, while the Orange Girl (Melissa Weyn) is domestic and maternal. Finally, the Green Girl (Allison Hunt) is ... well, a slut. Each is clearly defined by the visually appropriate, period ensembles chosen by costume designer Emma Crafton, with colored clothing in the first act and black clothing with colored knee-high boots in the second. They're also sometimes washed in their specific hue by lighting designer James Kolditz as they sit on sections of scenic designer Colt Frank's colored blocks with slants and steps in them, giving the prismatic impression that they, themselves, are emanating from a light source.
Not only are show creators Phillip George's and David Lowenstein's song choices the perfect blend of touching and fun - with the score wonderfully performed by music director Cindy Blanc and her two fellow musicians on keyboards and percussion - but the actors deliver them in beautiful voice and impressive harmonic blend. Harrell offers a fantastically energetic, soulful version of "Son of a Preacher Man," while Plath's pleasingly playful "Don't Sleep in the Subway" includes a flirtation with a front-row audience member, which had the wife of our Saturday matinée's victim in giggling fits. Murrah manages an impressively consistent take on her gawky ingénue, and Hunt elicits many a laugh with Green Girl's acceptance of her loose ways, and delights with her rousing lead vocals on "Goldfinger." Most of my attention, however, was given to Weyn, whose heartfelt, innocent longing on the slow intro to "I Only Want to Be with You" had me wondering why the performer wasn't featured more during Timber Lake's last three productions.
The ladies shine brightest together while harmonizing on "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" while executing choreographer James Beaudry's impressive musical staging. He includes a sort of 1960s-style moonwalk as the girls extend a foot forward, then slide it back, popping the other knee out as their feet meet, all while staying in one place. The song continues with similarly impressive footwork, and the number's combination of rousing singing and infectious dancing left me wanting to stand up and join in on the fun. That's true of the Timber Lake Playhouse's entire production of Shout! The Mod Musical. I enjoyed every humorous, touching, wildly entertaining moment, as did Saturday's audience, which rose to their feet at the end for a well-deserved standing ovation.
Shout! The Mod Musical runs at the Timber Lake Playhouse (8215 Black Oak Road, Mt. Carroll) through August 24, and more information and tickets are available by calling (815)244-2035 or visiting TimberLakePlayhouse.org.