From the opening scene, where all 13 cast members sing and dance to the title song dressed in '40s chic, we know we are watching a hit show. A Time to Be Born is an elegant, glamorous night at the theatre with a high level of production, talented cast, a smart script and brilliant songs.
This is Tajlei Levis's adaptation of the Dawn Powell 1942 novel about small-town Vicky Haven (Christy Morton, lighting up the room every time she smiles) who comes to big-town New York City after her fiancé elopes with her best friend. She contacts old school friend Amanda Keeler (Maria Couch), a scheming big shot in the city's literary scene (reportedly based on Claire Boothe Luce, author of The Women). Keeler happily offers Haven a Gramercy Park apartment to stay in at night, using it for her own extramarital tiddlywinks with unsuccessful writer Ken (James Sasser) during the day. What ensues is a tale of an innocent girl with big dreams and how she deals with a cynical bunch of sophisticates.
Levis has adapted the Powell book (softening the second half to make it more appropriate for musical comedy), peppering it with witty one-liners (a combination of Levis's own, paraphrases of Powell, and a little Oscar Wilde inspiration). Gems include: "All it takes is the right woman to make a man fall apart like a cheap ukulele"; "Lost a woman, lost a war—what's the difference?"; "You know, you're really quite lovable; it's a shame that I'm not in love with you"; and "You know, I abhor women at a party: They have nothing of value to offer—except their husbands."
Levis's lyrics are very much worth listening to, and include "I can have my cake and eat it too / The cake that I am going for is 6-foot-2" and "She spends more money on her shoes than she does on her rent / She's the new New York woman!" The lines are set to catchy, beautiful music by composer, arranger, and musical director John Mercurio.
Marlo Hunter does a marvelous job directing and choreographing this show, with the kind of staging that implies no need to "comment" on a time period, rather to appreciate it, and choreography that celebrates how refreshing it is to see performers really dance onstage.
The actors work well together, in particular the aforementioned Morton and Sasser (there was a moment during his powerful singing when the thought "I love musicals" came to my mind), Alison Cimmet as quirky secretary Bemel, and Ali McLennan as front-office girl Nancy—McLennan has only a few lines but glows throughout as a class act.
I'm sure this won't be the last we see of A Time to Be Born, as it seems clearly destined for future and even greater productions.