“Times Square” is one of the most dazzling shows Tisch Drama STAGEworks has put on yet this season but not in the way one might expect. Caitlin Cobb-Vialet and MinJi Kim lead the boisterous and heartfelt musical as Nicky and Pamela respectively, which tells the story of Times Square before it became the theme park we know as today.
In the Tisch original musical –– based on Allan Moyle’s 1980 film by the same name –– the crossroads of the world exists as a vacuum for drug addicts, strippers and others who have lost their way. Pamela, a runaway songwriter, stumbles into this world, and it is among the strippers and stragglers that she meets Nicky, a fellow songwriter, who has lived on the street since childhood.
The two eventually form a band, The Sleaze Sisters, and reclaim the negative stereotype of Times Square dwellers being trash. Nicky and Pamela form a dynamic –– and romantic –– duo, who both bring vulnerability and passion to the stage with different heartbeats.
“Times Square” is a collaboration between Tisch and current artists in residence Steve Cosson and The Civilians. The musical is one of the many productions this season that are imagined by the creatives of the city and not the university.
This collaboration allows students to make connections within the industry and find new voices very few have worked with. The Civilians –– a local theater company at the helm of director Cosson –– describe its vision for “Times Square” as a result of its desire to put two female protagonists front and center, to tell the dangerous and messy coming-of-age story that is traditionally reserved for men.
While the rock-opera style is reminiscent of musicals like “Rent” or “Once,” each actor and creative brings new elements that separate the production from the rest. The indie lilt of Cobb-Vialet’s voice brings a modern twist to this classic genre, while the visible truth Kim emits in her performance justifies the angst commonly found in rock duets.
The story balances itself between tender moments, like Nicky and Pamela’s first kiss, and wild ones, like The Sleazy Sisters’ debut performance at a strip club.
Kieran Graulich’s performance as Pearl, the radio host that inspires Pamela’s big move, was a standout and grounded the show as a one-person greek chorus of sorts. Through his commentary and ideals, the audience is guided along the show’s narrative. In a turn of events, Pearl reveals his own feelings toward the show’s end, offering a window into the lives of a supporting character.
In a show that could easily become lighthearted and kitschy, the ensemble cast and strong lead performances breathed life and reality into the genre that is sure to resonate through the ages.
“Times Square” is playing at Abe Burrows Theatre through March 3. Tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite.
A version of this article appeared in the Feb. 26 print edition. Email Emma Hernando at [email protected]