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Trip of Love


Photo: Getty Images


                                                        By Michall Jeffers

Trip of Love is a recreation, through music, of a particular moment in the history of our country. When the audience enters the theater, the very walls throb with psychedelic images of mushrooms and ephemera, all done in neon shades of blue, purple, red, and pink. The heroine of the hour is Alice, who falls through the looking glass of the 1960s, into what is alternately a drug induced dream, a Vegas floor show, and a candy sweet romance. Strangely, there’s not a lot of drug taking on stage, so Alice must have been particularly susceptible. To put the era in perspective, there was also a lot of bread baking that took place, people developed an aversion to bathing, and nobody who wasn’t participating in a body building tournament had the totally ripped gym bodies that are onstage. But then, as the saying goes, if you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t really there.

What we think of as the ‘60s actually had life well into the ‘70s, as do tunes featured here.  President Kennedy was inaugurated in January, 1961. It was a time of pillbox hats, radio hits that were anything but daring, and a U.S.A that was prosperous and bright. America was going to the moon. America was going to end poverty. If anyone was actively involved in rocking the boat, most of the population  was blissfully unaware. On a sunny day in Dallas, everything changed. The nation’s golden boy President was murdered, and mesmerized citizens watched him die over and over again, curtesy of a film which accidentally caught the event. The country mourned, and  realized that if the life of the leader of the free world could be so easily snuffed out, no one was safe. As a nation, the United States became much more cynical, and when President Johnson escalated the war in Vietnam, the youth culture exploded into protest on the one hand, and apathy on the other. African-Americans had waited long enough to get equal rights, and another front was opened in the volatile temperature of those turbulent times.  The Vietnam War ended on April 30, 1975, with the searing image of desperate people, who had helped America, clinging futilely to the outside of the last departing helicopter. 

There’s very little of the anguish of those days incorporated into this show, and for the most part, that’s OK. Where Trip Of Love goes off the rails is the jarring misinterpretation of the most seminal music of the times. “Where Have All The Flowers Gone?” is not a sugary song about a boy giving a girl a posy.  It’s about the futility of war, in particular, the war that was sending home boys in body bags. “Blowin’ in the Wind” wasn’t about young men at war; it was a Civil Rights anthem. While the Samba dancing is fun to see (a good number of the audience knows the moves from Dancing WithThe Stars), “The Girl From Ipanema” simply doesn’t gel with the rest of the program. And  how does motorcycle riding figure into the equation?

A word of high praise must be given here to the costume design by Gregg Barnes. The gowns are absolutely divine; the way the Samba dresses look and move couldn’t be better, and the long frocks, complete with spangles, are to die for. Likewise, the scenic design by James Walski and Robin Wagner are lush and inventive. “Wipe Out” alone is worth the price of admission; the undulating waves and constantly moving surfers create an atmosphere of sheer exuberance. James Walski who created , directed, and choreographed the production gets high marks for keeping his large cast and various styles of song and dance in concert. There are some clashing moments which make audience members wonder  about the excessive use of the scantily clad young men and the writhing young women,  featured in an era that was marked by hippie overdress.  On the other hand, it’s impossible not to admire the gyrations of the incredibly supple Tara Palsha. In a word much overused at the time- Wow!

The performances aren’t uniformly praiseworthy. Most commendable is Laurie Wells, who does a lot of  the heavy lifting with the ballads “Windmills of Your Mind,” “Moon River,” and “Both Sides Now.” She sings from the heart, and adds a great deal of warmth to what often feels like a strictly tongue-in-cheek outing. Some of the songs are just great fun; it’s impossible to listen to “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” without wondering what listeners were thinking, if anything. Hard to believe, but at the time “These Boots Were Made For Walking” was banned from the airwaves as being too suggestive. “White Rabbit” was an inevitable choice, but it actually does fit with the theme. And “You Don’t Own Me” became a rallying cry for scores of young women just starting to realize the power they’d been taught to yield.

There are no spoken words in the show, and very little plot, which serves to speed the evening along. However, it’s difficult to know the names of the characters when they’re never articulated. A word to the screaming, at times intrusive, claque who hooted and hollered throughout the performance: Don’t. It’s almost as off-putting as a ringing cell phone.

While Trip of Love is obviously meant for sheer entertainment, it’s also important to be able to reflect on the tempestuous time period it represents. For anyone who lived through those days, nostalgia is tinged with sorrow. Did we learn anything? Are we more mellow and wiser, or just older and more tired? The answer is- wait for it- blowin’ in the wind.

Trip of Love, Stage 42,  422 West 42 St.; 212-239-6200; running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Author/ Director/Choreographer: James Walski; Scenic design, James Walski & Robin Wagner; Costume design, Gregg Barnes; Lighting design, Tamotsu Harada

Cast:  Joey Calveri (Peter), David Elder (George), Kelly Felthous (Caroline), Dionne Figgins (Jennifer), Austin Miller (Adam), Tara Palsha (Crystal), Laurie Wells (Angela), Yesenia Ayala, Colin Bradbury, Bo Broadwell, Kyle Brown, Whitney Cooper, Alexa DeBarr, Daniel Lynn Evans, Lisa Finegold, Steve Geary, Daryl Getman, Jennifer Gruener, Brandon Leffler, Peter Nelson, Tara Palsha, Kristin Piro, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Nicky Venditti