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Review: 'Shout!' is fast and fun

“Shout! The Mod Musical” opened last weekend at the Randall Theatre in Medford with a rainbow of colorful slickers, matching umbrellas and a bevy of beautiful voices. Set in Britain in the swinging ’60s, “Shout!” by Phillip George and David Lowenstein, uses a monthly women’s magazine to organize a progressively more intimate view of women’s lives and female popular culture.

Katrina Sewell is marvelous in the role of Gwendolyn Holmes, Shout Magazine’s advice columnist. Sewell as Holmes carries the narrative of the production from inception to self-destruction and is positioned on the second level of the Randall stage, spotlighted in proper lace, gloves, heels and hose, feather pen in hand. The letters from the cast are at first concerned with manners and marriage and become increasingly more real and fearful, dealing with abuse, abandonment, sexual choices.

No Dear Abby, Gwendolyn Holmes is caught in the Victorian Era, and her increasingly ridiculous and irrelevant advice to letters signals a sea shift in women’s consciousness.

“Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In” was at the peak of its popularity from 1968 to 1972. Dan Rowan and Dick Martin’s comedic timing, biting satire and lame jokes worked every political and cultural angle of the day. The innuendo, language and blatant sexuality of the show were innovative, alarming and exciting. Rowan and Martin aren’t in “Shout!” to serve commentary, but the show uses that “Laugh In” template with its fast-moving scenes, signature jingle, advertisements, quizzes and an all-female cast to deliver a comedic take on female cultural maturation. The cast is an ensemble of five colors, each representing a slice of feminine life in the 1960s and 1970s.

Alissa Larson is cast as the Green Girl and is perhaps one of the most dazzling performers of the show. Larson has Twiggy’s mod fashions, Goldie Hawn’s fair beauty and Joanne Worley’s brash. The “Goldfinger” number featured Larson leading the ensemble in a well choreographed scene that included (figurative) handguns to express their cool, collective scorn for powerful men (and their desire for Sean Connery as that very cool 007).

Larson’s open and accepting sexuality as the Green Girl is a nice complement to the ensemble that reflects the everyday, conservative wife (Briana Johnson as the Orange Girl), elegant wealth (Megan Kirby as the Blue Girl), youthful freedom (Lauren Panter as the Red Girl) and a sole American who is infatuated with Paul McCartney (Jennifer Davis as the Yellow Girl).

Mary Quant and Carnaby Street fashions are front and center of “Shout! The Mod Musical.” Through the age, fashions shift from conventional frocks to box dresses and from minis and micros to bell bottoms and fringe.

Megan Kirby in blue is London’s Dolly Girl, a wonderful fit of the wealthy, beautiful character to Kirby’s tall, elegant frame and demeanor. As the Blue Girl, Kirby has one of those devastatingly hysterical “Laugh In” scenes where she promotes gallons of Ectocil, a chemical moisturizer necessary to prevent aging, because “he’ll notice that inevitable decay.” A familiar talent on Rogue Valley stages, it’s great to see Kirby in this well deserved lead role at the Randall.

Several sketches compete for my most memorable vote, Ectocil among them. Another is a “Laugh In” type of piece on The Pill that features Lauren Panter, the Red Girl. Panter hears and mimes the drug company’s promised advantages of The Pill, which is literally on stage as a 12-inch pink round. Panter exalts in expected coupling free of reproductive consequences and then, deflating over the course of the dialogue, she hears and acts out all of the side effects of those early contraceptives — bloating, cramps, irregularity, mood swings and weight gain.

Another sketch is memorable for its execution on the Randall stage, and because it will be familiar to those who secretively shared a joint among friends. In this skit, each of the ensemble has their own stoner response — Red laughs, Yellow falls asleep, Blue repeats “penis” until she discovers “vagina,” Orange gets the munchies and Green gets horny. The funny, frenzied scene segues into Mary Hopkin’s “Those Were the Days,” and the colorful crew dances the Hora complete with kicks, claps and circle steps.

Maybe some of those days were good, but the public challenges women experienced in the ’60s and ’70s were huge. The “Shout!” ensemble shows nostalgia, regret, satisfaction and hope in its final eponymic number, “Shout!” The lyrics are a universal statement of being: “I’m your wife, your mother, your sister,” the ensemble in full voice and powered by the amazing Jennifer Davis.

Several ’60s musicals have played out on Rogue Valley stages this spring and each has their unique take on the era. “Shout!” focuses entirely on female culture and is not distracted with politics or celebrity. “Shout!” uses some of those same ’60s tunes we’ve heard this spring to create a continuum and a context for the very real narratives of women taking a leap of faith from what was to what would be.

“Shout! The Mod Musical” is directed by Sarah Gore and continues through May 5, at the Randall Theatre, 20 S. Fir St., Medford. Adult themes and language are best suited for mature audiences. For tickets or more information, call the box office at 541-632-3258 or see RandallTheatre.com.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com.

“Shout! The Mod Musical” opens April 19 at the Randall Theatre in Medford.