January 24, 2010

The Times

(photo from YorkTheatre.org)

Last weekend I saw a staged reading of The Times: A New Musical presented by the York Theatre. From the press notes: "The Times is a bittersweet comedy charting the course of a marriage through good times, bad times and The New York Times. Liz, an actress, and Ted, a writer, begin their New York love story in 1973 and see their relationship evolve over the course of 17 years through the eyes of their friends and rest of the world--with the help of a familiar newspaper that brings the stories of their lives together." Music was by Brad Ross and book and lyrics by Joe Keenan.


The story opens with Liz (Julia Murney) and Ted (Jordan Leeds) in an argument. It then reverts 17 years earlier to how they first met, eventually fall in love and get married. They start their lives together with optimism but eventually reality sets in. Liz, after 10 years of trying to be a successful stage actress has to face the hard facts of the business and decides to change her career and give up her craft. She then becomes a successful advertising executive. In the meantime, Ted takes a teaching job as he works on writing his book. He then becomes so preoccupied with perfecting his book and also becomes consumed with jealousy towards his friend Bob who becomes a successful playwright. Things are compounded by Liz' success and their move to a more posh apartment which is financed by Liz' salary. Ted eventually finishes his book (after 10 years) and finds an agent. After 2 years of trying, the agent however is unable to sell his book to a publisher and drops Ted as a client. That same day, Ted reads a good review of a book by a former student from his composition class and is consumed with jealousy. The story climaxes on New Years Eve in 1989 when all these news comes crashing down on Ted. Liz, weary of being alienated and resented by Ted because of her success has to decide whether to go or stay. In all these, the New York Times plays a role as either a marker for a turning point in their life or as a catalyst of a conflict in the form of reviews or news that Ted and Liz reads.

I was pleasantly surprised by the production. I was aware that it's only a staged reading but was impressed by how well the production turned out considering the actors were only given 30 hours of rehearsal time. Yes, as mentioned by the York's Artistic Director before the show, the cast only saw the material on Monday, Jan. 11 at 10 am then had to present a full show on Friday, Jan. 15. Wow!

I thought the book and lyrics were well written. It starts out as very funny and witty but then I found myself being drawn into the story and the next thing I knew, I was really moved by the show. It's difficult to watch two people grow apart that way (I must say that the show does have a "Last 5 Years" feel to it). I did like that the playwright made the NY Times (played by different ensemble members) another character in the show. I thought that was a smart story telling device. In addition, the actors also weren't using microphones during this production so it was really refreshing to get to hear their natural unamplified voices. You don't get that very often.

The cast which consisted of Julia Murney as Liz and Jordan Leeds as Ted with Heather Ayers, Sarah Jane Everman, Mary GorDon Murray, Bill Nolte, Robb Sapp and Jim Stanek were all perfectly casted in their roles. Jordan Leeds was fittingly whiny as the ever so envious Ted. At one point I wanted to go onstage and hit him on the head to get some sense in him. He was very effective!

Can I just say that it is so nice to see Julia Murney in a good mature role?! A role with a good arc and enough stage time that she can show her acting chops! She was heartbreaking and balances the subtlety of her weariness with the heightened emotion of frustration very well. I dare you to not be moved!

It's good to see her in a show like this where you, as an audience member, are reminded of how good an actress she is. But then again it also reminds you of the need for her to be in more shows.

The show isn't perfect but it's very promising. I hope it finds another life somewhere. Maybe Off-Broadway and hopefully with the same cast.

Some photos I took that night:

Entrance to St. Peter's Church on 54th Street

Headshots of the cast

A wall of posters of previous York Theatre productions

Mata Hari poster circa 1996 with a certain Julia K. Murney in the cast


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