Trip of Love continues at Stage 42, New York.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
The psychedelic 1960s are back in force Off-Broadway with Trip of Love, an elaborate song and dance spectacle that pulsates, gyrates and undulates through some 28 tunes from that eventful decade. It’s a garish frolic that’s relentlessly entertaining and bolstered by some unexpectedly affecting moments.
The show is the creation of James Walski, who has worked on national tours of various musicals and is now making his New York debut as a director/choreographer. Walski is also credited as co-designer of the scenery along with Broadway design luminary Robin Wagner. And there is indeed what could well be a ton of scenery tied to eye-popping projections plus trunkloads of costumes (by Gregg Barnes) that go from surprisingly chic to hallucinatory fluorescence. Not to mention a company of 23 performers of seemingly superhuman strength, including principals who can blast out a vocal against a driving six-piece pit band, even while negotiating Walski’s extended and kinetic dance combinations.
The show, which premiered back in 2008 in Osaka, Japan, “with the generous support of the city of Osaka”, was at one time seen as a contender for Broadway, but it has found a suitable venue Off-Broadway in Stage 42, a comfortably luxurious space that was originally known as the Little Shubert.
In a programme note, Walski tells us that he is attempting to revive the concept of revue-style shows which once dotted Broadway with such titles as Bubbling Brown Sugar, Dancin’ and Sophisticated Ladies. He does, though, give his creation a thin – very thin, almost imperceptible – thread of a storyline, building dialogue-free vignettes around each song.
Shortly after the start of the show, a comely young miss, looking like a contemporary version of Alice in Wonderland (although identified as Caroline in the cast list and played by Kelly Felthous) is spotlighted in the audience as a ticket-holder looking for her seat, when she is swept up on the stage by a couple of the bare-chested male dancers and eventually ensconced on a giant mushroom.
It’s all done to Grace Slick’s ‘White Rabbit’ and follows the opening number, in which the show’s featured vocal soloist, called Angela and played by Laurie Wells, offers an intense rendition of ‘Windmills of Your Mind’ the hit ballad written by Michel Legrand and Alan and Marilyn Bergman. I guess by now you’re getting the drug-infused, hippie-styled drift of much of the show.
Later, Caroline meets a guitar-strumming guy named Adam (Austin Miller) at a college campus protest against the Vietnam War, where he leads the singing of Pete Seeger’s ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone’. Still later, Adam proposes to Caroline while they stroll on a bridge against a gorgeous projection of a moonlit river, and Angela, perched high on a swing in a gown of white fluff, intones ‘Moon River’ by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer.
Then, there’s an intermission, but between Caroline’s adventures, we have already had: big chorus numbers, such as an energetic swim in the ocean waves, done to the instrumental ‘Wipe Out’; a session of sexy body painting depicted by a couple identified as Crystal and Peter (Tara Palsha and Joey Calveri), and a galvanising rendition of ‘It’s Not Unusual’ by a fellow named George (an especially magnetic David Elder), who gets pursued across the stage by a trail of aspiring paramours. George also does some flashy ballroom dancing with ‘The Girl From Ipanema’, but he later hooks up with a goddess of a gal named Jennifer (a terrific Dionne Figgins), who wins the lead spot in a show called ‘Dance-A-Go-Go’ by auditioning with ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’.’
In the Act II, we have other developments: Caroline and Adam get married and sail off in a hot air balloon, while Angela sings ‘Up, Up and Away’; the three lead guys – Adam, George and Peter – go off to the Vietnam War where they sing Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, while their three ladies find solace by going ‘Downtown’. It all nearly ends with Caroline being deposited back in the audience by the bare-chested dancers. (To be sure, there is a sufficiency of bare male chests on view to go with the scantily costumed chorines.) And to finally wrap it all up, there are three rousing production number finales.
Such a show could be seen as an unmitigated attempt to capitalise on 1960s nostalgia. But I found the proceedings to be elevated by the affection it demonstrates for this momentous decade, with its mix of silliness and creativity, flower-power and upending of a country’s moral structure. It also throbs with a great and unanticipated appreciation of the musicality of the pop songs of the period. Then there’s the cast, whose talents are pretty much jaw-dropping, working with great skill, energy and enthusiasm to deliver a damn exciting show.
I’m giving this thing four stars, and have even thought about five, not because it’s a pinnacle of musical theatre, but simply because of the undiluted entertainment and spectacular eye candy it offers. It’s probably one of the most elaborate shows to ever land on an Off-Broadway stage (excluding of course those put together for mammoth Radio City Music Hall, which is in a sense Off-Broadway), but add the Rockettes to Trip of Love, and you would have a tourist attraction that would feel right at home at landmark Radio City.
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