note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
When writer-director Roger Bean presented his new musical, “Summer of Love,” at a Long Beach, Calif. regional theater in April, audiences welcomed it, embraced it, rejoiced with it.
Although Bean calls his play “a work in progress,” audiences attending Ogunquit Playhouse’s East Coast premiere are equally enthusiastic about his multimedia, 1960’s joyfest, calling it a refreshing new show.
Bean highlights 24 songs of that turbulent era, including hits of the Mamas and the Papas, Donovan, Janis Joplin, Jefferson Airplane, Burt Bacharach, Andre Previn and others to interlace the plot, setting and characters.
Bean focuses on 1967 - the “Summer of Love”- when young people flocked to the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco to be free - which included revolutionary free love, anti-Vietnam War, anti-establishment, anti-commercialism and anti-materialism demonstrations. They plaited their hair with flowers, danced and sang like children in parks and on the streets, preaching peace and love. They also begged on street corners, handed out placards, and tripped out on psychedelic drugs, while their counterparts were drafted into war or defected to Canada to avoid serving.
“Hey, hey, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?” they chant. “Make love, not war. Peace,” they gesture. That counterculture movement also spawned pretty ballads and anthemic rock songs, which Bean interweaves throughout his thin story line about a fictional “family,” or tribe, led by Mama, a human aberration of Mother Nature - the earth mother of Golden Gate Park hippies. Dressed in a rainbow-streaked robe, her dark hair adorned with a floral wreath,Michele Lee, (stage,movie and TV star whose career catapulted anew with her role on TV series “Knots Landing”), is magnificent. She epitomizes this group’s Earth Mother, chiding them with her deep, throaty voice when they go astray, guiding them with mystical Jesus-like, peaceful, loving gestures, and kindly words of advice in “Do You Believe in Magic,” and “Get Together”.
Mama and the family embrace runaway bride, Holly, (Missy Dowse) who happened upon the group at Golden Gate Park, while running away from her upscale wedding and life in Sausalito, which her estranged parents arranged for her. She loves her fiance, Curtis, (Doug Carpenter), who is also programmed into this upper class, white picket fence, corporate world.
Holly meets male leader River, (Manley Pope), whose main woman is Saige, (Soara-Joye Ross), but he chauvinistically spreads the love. As Holly decides to join the family, sweetly sensitive Coyote (Colin Israel) teaches her about a different kind of love in his stirring rendition of “Don’t You Want Somebody to Love You?”
Frank Lawson as Rufus, a returned Vietnam War veteran, hoists the banner, leading a powerful protest in “War,” and Curtis tries desperately, tenderly to win Holly back, with “This Guy’s in Love with You,” while she protests, “Let Me Be”.
There’s so much to love here, including Ross, whose soulful rendition of “Piece of My Heart” pulsates. Choreographer Lee Martino, who also led the West Coast premiere, sparks this talented, energetic cast. They prance up and down the aisles, greeting individuals, handing out paper flowers, fliers, and love.
Seated on both sides of the stage upper level,conductor Michael Borth on keyboards and musicians are fantastic. So are Bobby Pearce’s costumes; Michael Carnahan’s psychedelic set, with its flower power van; Richard Latta’s poignant lighting and Jeremy Oleska’s pulsating lighting, especially during Curtis’ nightmarish acid trip. But Jeffrey Cady’s multimedia historic projections on a large, centrally-located screen, promote powerful authenticity.
Overall, the play’s groovy, unleashing an aura of peace and love so needed today. For two hours, the “Darkness” dissipates in this kaleidoscopic “Spinning Wheel,” as “Everyday People” “Get Together - right now” to share joy.
BOX INFO: Two-act, two-hour musical by Roger Bean, appearing now through July 16, at the Ogunquit Playhouse, (Route 1), 10 Main St., Ogunquit, Maine, starring Michele Lee. Showtimes: Tuesday-Friday, at 8 p.m., matinees, Wednesday,Thursday, 2:30 p.m.; Saturday, 3:30, 8:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2,7 p.m. Tickets: $53.50-$76.50. Call 800-982-2787 or visit www.OgunquitPlayhouse.org.