Hey, Mr. Broadway Producer dressed up like a tambourine man, I’ve just seen The Times They Are a-Changin’ and I’d like to suggest a one-word rewrite in the title song. How about, “Don’t choreograph what you don’t understand?” Now that Twyla Tharp has joined the ranks of Bob Dylan commentators, you’ve got to do something to curb the clutter, because the dances, they are a-degeneratin’. This latest Twyla-zone version of a jukebox musical is supposed to be a fable happening in a dreamscape. If my dreams were this trite, I’d redecorate my brain. Speaking of decoration, the drabness of Santo Loquasto’s designs is a perfect match. Not that I blame Loquasto; drabness is a perfect match for the mass of secondhand junk Tharp’s piled into her choreography, mainly as half-finished clumps of movement that do nothing but distract you from Dylan’s songwriting.
And the story of this “fable”? An Oedipal struggle between a nasty circus ringmaster and his virtuous son, both leching for the same outcast girl? Give me a break—preferably a 16-bar dance break that doesn’t step on a great Dylan lyric. Putting the bard who’s positively 4th Street on Times Square was a klutzy move to begin with, and every showy fidget that Tharp adds to his intimate folk poetry makes it worse. Michael Arden and Lisa Brescia, who play the bruised young lovers, try really hard, but Tharp kills every moment they might come close to capturing. And Thom Sesma’s ringmaster takes the prize for the most repellent performance now on Broadway, though it’s hard to know what else he could make of a role that consists almost entirely of beating people up, interrupted by sporadic bursts of self-pity. A troupe of stunning dancers functions as visual background noise to this antique triangle; they all look like they’d be happier working on Maggie’s farm than on Twyla’s trampolines.