By Kendra Jones

“Welcome to New York, where the local time is ten years ahead of wherever you just came from!”

A Sign of the Times is fun, vibrant, relevant, and relatable. The costuming is bright, the vocals are powerful, the choreography is explosive, the writing seamlessly weaves songs of the 60’s with story and emotion, and women command the stage!

It’s 1965. Men are “masculine” and women are housewives. Cindy (Chilina Kennedy), an aspiring photographer from a small town in Ohio ignores a proposal from her small-town boyfriend, Matt (Justin Matthew Sargent), who aspires to support her along with a dreamt-up crew of little Matts and Matildas.

But, we are about to watch Cindy go on a journey that so many women are still aspiring to take today: to take on the big city. Being raised in a small town in Pennsylvania, I too, was expected to stay in the town, and like so many other people I had grown up with, not expected to dream of living in a city with a population of over eight million.

We relate to Cindy’s apartment search–one that’s no different from the struggle of apartment hunting in New York City today. The parade of potential roommates: unique, hilarious, unexpected, and potentially even dangerous. The struggle to be accepted as a roommate. To be chosen in a city with millions of tenants. We watch Cindy discover fashion, stumble on the subway, and quickly be swept into the bustle of the city.

After securing an apartment, Cindy struggles with finding a job as a female photographer in the city. Cindy lands in failing hopes, after being seen as a floozy secretary time after time, interview after interview, with disgusting male-run advertisement agencies. But she ends up running into Brian (Ryan Silverman), whose name is on an agency; we can predict he will be no different than the others, even though he seems intrigued by her photography.

Several stories are interwoven into A Sign of the Times. While Cindy immerses herself into this new lifestyle, her roommate, Tanya (Crystal Lucas-Perry), bestows powerhouse vocals. and has her own aspirations for singing. Her character is unabashedly loud, bold, and present. She falls in love with Cody (Akron Lanier Watson), a freedom rider, and we learn about her hesitation behind fighting alongside him. This strong female character offers us vulnerability.

Cindy spends time questioning and considering Brian’s intentions, they fall in love, and she meets the difficult truth that he might just be everything she feared he was from the start. While their relationship progresses, Tanya and Cody fall in love–real love, which is relieving, and we are rooting for them. Will Tanya’s fears and Cody’s ambition collide? Will they be able to run together in this world?

In the background, as Cindy continues to navigate the advertising industry as a photographer, she wonders whether she made the right decision to leave Matt.

“I walk alone and wonder—who am I?”

This is relevant to not only people just moving to the city—but those of us who have even been here for years. Sometimes I wake in the morning and this same longing drips from my lips: to know who I am, what my purpose is, what my place is and will be in the city—if I am meant to be here.

“Maybe I’m reaching far too high?

For I have something else entirely free

The love of someone close to me

Unfettered by the world that hurries by

Ah, to question such good fortune

Who am I?”

And maybe its not the love of a significant other that I have back home, but the family I’ve left behind and choose to leave behind each month, each year I choose to stay. Before Cindy realizes it, it’s been months, almost a year since she left Ohio. Cindy from Ohio becomes Cindy of New York City. “Ever heard of a New York minute?”

This line is repeated throughout the show, but is ever relevant to how quickly time passes in the city.

As the Vietnam War continues, Matt gets drafted, and requests to see Cindy one last time before he leaves for war. While I want Cindy to keep chasing her dreams, they hold a tender relationship, and there’s a part of me that wants them to see each other.

Women are empowered in this performance, from rising above betrayals in both romantic relationships and careers, the female characters conquer suited males whose intellect is marinated in crude office banter.

While everyone earns that happy ending, I am pleasantly surprised with each one. I appreciate not expecting Matt’s ending, or Cindy’s, but they are timely and relevant to the this point in history. Each character makes their own escape from their comfortable lifestyles, discovering themselves and their confidence along the avenues they carve.

This larger story of civil rights, resistance, work equality, during the War, leaves equal space for these individual stories and feats. Protesters of war, of the war on race, on equality. Freedom riders hold up signs that say “I am a man,” and we are reminded just how relevant these are today. How over five decades later, we are still struggling to gain racial and gender equality, in the professional workplace, in the streets, in housing, in simply living.

This show is extroadinarily well balanced. Not only is the costuming spot on for the time period and visually appealing, but it brings the whole setting to life. Such praise to this example of minimal setting: the use of lighting and cityscape projections is effective and allows the audience to sit on the subway with Cindy, allow us to drive across bridges and be dropped onto the sidewalks Cindy and Tanya walk.

I am most impressed with how the songs are so seamlessly woven and spread throughout this performance. Petula Clark, Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield, and other classic pop hits of the 1960s such as “You Don’t Own Me,” “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” “The Shoop Shoop Song,” and “Downtown” are just a handful of numbers that reinforce the vibrancy of the performance and female empowerment. They aren’t scattered here and there to give the actors an opportunity to display vocals and entertain with song–these songs entertain because they are part of the story. Each one is necessary to build and carry each scene into the next.

The choreography in this show is absolutely electric–from the entire cast in a night club and house parties to Brian and ad executives in their Manhattan office. Men on rolling office chairs become a choreography to “Five O’Clock World.” This may be a scene I never forget–the simplicity of suited men simultaneously singing and rolling across a stage is so well designed.

The audience is moving in their seats, they’re clapping, they’re yipping, they’re laughing, we’re having a ball.

A Sign of the Times needs a bigger stage–I would return time and time again, and I would be dancing in my seat with the same intensity every time! A Sign of the Times is masterfully done. It is everything I wanted it to be, everything it needed to be.

Book by Lindsey Hope Pearlman; Based on an original story by Richard J. Robin; Music Supervision, arrangements, and orchestrations by Joseph Church; Choreographed by JoAnn M Hunter; Directed by Gabriel Barre.

WITH: Chilina Kennedy (Cindy), Ryan Silverman (Brian), Justin Matthew Sargent (Matt), Akron Lanier Watson (Cody), and Crystal Lucas-Perry (Tanya).

FEATURING: Cassie Austin, Erica Simone Barnett, Alyssa Carol, Melessie Clark, Jeremiah Ginn, Kuppi Alec Jessop, Lena Teresa Matthews, Maggie McDowell, J Savage, Justin Showell, Michael Starr, and Edward Staudenmayer.

CREATIVE TEAM: Evan Adamson (Set Design), Johanna Pan (Costume Design), Ken Billington (Lighting Design), Shannon Slaton (Sound Design), Brad Peterson (Projection Design), J. Jared Janas (hair, Wig, and Makeup Design), Britt Bonney (Music Director).

A Sign of the Times had its world premiere at Goodspeed Musicals’ Norma Terris Theatre in 2016 and played a sold out, critically acclaimed run at the Delaware Theatre Company in 2018. A Sign of the Times runs for 2 hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission. It will run until through June 2 at New World Stages, 340 West 50th Street, New York, NY. For tickets, visit Telecharge.com.