Theater archives

Swing Out Sisters


On an ecstatically ugly stage adorned with Day-Glo flowers and shag platforms, a woman in an orange shift and bouffant ‘do croons Dusty Springfield’s immortal lyrics, “You don’t have say you love me/Just be close at hand.” Well, anything to oblige a lady. And indeed, Shout!, a Mod jukebox musical by Phillip George and David Lowenstein, proves blissfully easy to sit through, if rather difficult to love. Five women, attired in a prodigiously short skirts and vinyl boots, frolic and frug their way through ’60s tunes such as “Sign of the Times,” “England Swings,” and “Diamonds Are Forever.” A series of quick comic skits and voiceovers, purporting to be articles from “Shout, the magazine for the modern woman,” links the songs together.

In some ways, Shout! seems an obvious choice for Women’s Project programming. It features an all-female cast and purports to speak, comically and sincerely, to the concerns of a generation of women. However, it’s also content to reduce those women to single-word stereotypes—domestic, slutty, awkward, stuck-up, obnoxious. Each woman is associated with a color (resulting in some scrumptious ensembles by costume designer Philip Heckman) and is referred to not with an individualizing name, but merely as “Red Girl” or “Yellow Girl” (questionable sobriquets since most members of the cast seem to have left their girlhood well behind).

George and Lowenstein have selected and arranged 30 songs from recognizable hits to near obscurities, most of which are more likable and infectious than the standard musical offering. And the cast members perform them energetically (although the live band often threatens to drone out their voices). But the between-song dialogue ranges from the silly to the trite to the awesomely ill-judged, as when the show takes a serious turn and delves into domestic abuse, an inquiry that lasts only until the next pop song. However, the boomer audience didn’t seem bothered, laughing and cheering and clapping along at the least provocation. Perhaps, to quote a 1950s No. 1 hit, we’re simply “too young to really be in love.”