As a genre, the jukebox musical isn’t a source of dramatic heft. Like a classier cousin of the Elvis impersonator, the jukebox revue exists only to stage a greatest-hits compilation of pop tunes without the original artists.
By its title alone, then, “Shout! The Mod Musical,” created by Phillip George and David Lowenstein, would seem to offer the usual fluffy fodder, this time mining the “shagadelic” vein of 1960s pop, from Dusty Springfield’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’ ” to Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” as performed by a quintet of young women.
But “Shout!,” an off-Broadway show that’s running through Sunday at Scottsdale’s Theater 4301, is more than vinyl go-go boots and teenage Beatles crushes. Just as the ’60s saw the rise of feminism, this jukebox attempts a deeper message between its jaunts through the Billboard charts.
The result is a clever, charming production that delivers a bit of brain food alongside so much ear candy.
Though never explicitly named, the young women, each with a specific wardrobe, are given distinct personalities: nerdy, sexy, American expat, etc.
Through the show, they consult an unseen magazine advice columnist whose prudish voice-over prescriptions usually involve a shopping trip or pedicure. (On the topic of making out: “If God wanted us to have two tongues in our mouths,” she says, “he would have made us that way.”) As the decade of the ’60s progresses, the maturing ladies dabble in drugs, drink and the sexual revolution and find such exhortation increasingly irrelevant.
Along the way, there’s plenty of “Laugh-In”-style humor (“I tried sniffing coke,” says one Brit gal, “but the ice cubes got stuck up me nose”) and energetic choreography, and a small band of musicians onstage keeps the hits a-comin’ all through the show, which lasts 1 hour, 45 minutes without an intermission.
Mind you, “Shout!” is more risque than the typical jukebox show: One performer’s simulated orgasm — she was thinking about Tom Jones — made some sensitive audience members on Sunday’s matinee squirm in their seats. (For a tamer trip through retro girl-group tunes, check out the nearby Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre and its preternaturally popular “Suds: A Rocking ’60s Musical Soap Opera.”)
The production’s quintet of young actresses is vocally solid, and their harmonies blend lushly. Only one of the ladies, Lauren Fijol, isn’t up to snuff. Her nasal tone suggests a bad Barbra Streisand impression. Holly Burton, a Natasha Bedingfield sound-alike, is a standout; her “Son of a Preacher Man” is the sexiest thing on a Valley stage right now.
“Shout!” is not a perfect show, by any stretch. Considering the lyrics of many of those ’60s ditties are as substantive as “la la la la” and “ah ah ah ah,” the more sober moments can blindside the audience. Toward the end of the show, seemingly apropos of nothing, Burton’s character mentions that she’s the victim of spousal abuse; that disquieting moment sucks the air out of the theater.
And though putting the band onstage adds visually to the show, the players seem halfasleep, chugging through the songs like emotionless drones.
Still, jukebox musicals don’t often get more rewarding than “Shout!,” which offers proof that the genre can aspire to something greater.
Sock it to me, indeed.