Billed as the “American tribal love-rock musical,” Gerome Ragni, James Rado and Galt MacDermot’s seminal show is a tribute to the free love, drug experimentation and opposition to the Vietnam War that became the anthems of the flower children of the 1960s.
At the center of the tribe are its free-wheeling leader, Berger (Steel Burkhardt), and the popular Claude (Paris Remillard), who is seeking the courage to rebel against his “square” parents and burn his draft card. Sheila (Kacie Sheik) is Claude’s love interest while Jeanie (Kaitlin Kivan) secretly longs for his affection, or at least a romp in the sack.
Allison Guinn and Josh Lamon deliver hilarious takes as Claude’s nerdy parents and Lamon follows up with a gender-bending visit from “Margaret Mead,” who grants her approval to the tribe’s countercultural ways. The cast is rounded out by a dozen other talented performers who gyrate and glide through an abundance of simulated sex scenes and eventually take it all off. Singing and dancing apparently weren’t the only requirements to get cast in this show and I’ll leave it at that.
Under Diane Paulus’ direction, this production, which first wowed Broadway crowds and earned a 2009 Tony for best revival, is exuberant and downright boisterous as the cast sings about “Hashish” and “Sodomy” and the virtues of “Black Boys” and “White Boys.” Choreographer Karole Armitage stages energetic numbers that take the cast into the audience frequently as they alternately celebrate sex and drugs and protest the constrictions of proper society and later the despised Vietnam War.
Michael McDonald’s colorful costumes capture the sentiment of the era and showcase plenty of flesh with fringe and beads and Scott Pask’s spare multi-leveled set provides perches for the cast and a place for the onstage band, which jams under the direction of David Trusnikoff.
Like so many Broadway shows, the “story” is sparse, but the music more than makes up for the price of admission as the clock is turned back for a staged concert that doesn’t seem so dated.
Consider this: The members of the tribe would be in their sixties today, eligible for Social Security and Medicare and all the other establishment institutions they once reviled. Their grandchildren, the statistics tell us, are still experimenting with sex and drugs. Marijuana is practically legal in many states. And, while those grandchildren are more likely to express themselves through text messages and Facebook posts, instead of signs and graffiti, many of them protest an unpopular war that is sending their friends to their deaths.
Kravis Center for the Performing Arts
Friday, Jan. 13 through Sunday, Jan. 15
Tickets: $25 to $74