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Press Packet containing reviews of the musical Summer of Love.


Page 1: Summer of Love Press Packet 323-739-0413

created by Roger Bean

Photo courtesy of Musical Theatre West

Page 2: Summer of Love Press Packet

Writer-director Roger Bean’s formula of wrapping chart-topping songs of a specific era around a nostalgic story earned him blockbuster success with such shows as The Marvelous Wonderettes, The Andrews Brothers and Life Could Be a Dream.

His latest jukebox musical takes us on a fun-filled journey to San Francisco during the flower-child movement of the late 1960s, recounting the story of a rocky romance set right. The mood occasionally becomes slightly darker, when he raises the specters of social unrest and the Vietnam War. Think Hair meets Mamma Mia! Yet exuberant spirits predominate, courtesy of Bean’s charming script, the to-die-for score, a prodigious ensemble cast and a gorgeous production design.

In the peace-and-love atmosphere of Golden Gate Park, runaway bride Holly (Melissa Mitchell) stumbles upon a contingent of devil-may-care hippies. She has fled from her yuppie fiancé Curtis (Doug Carpenter) and the stifling control of her upper-class parents. Under the calming influence of elder commune member Mama (the splendid Victoria Strong) and her band of revelers, Holly’s conviction to be true to herself grows stronger, creating a challenge for Curtis to win her back. The uptight gent must first learn to smell the flowers and let down some of his close-cropped hair.

Triple-threat talents Carpenter and Mitchell share a spectacular chemistry. Carpenter croons disarmingly in romantic ballads such as “This Guy’s In Love With You”

and gets to emote strongly in the powerful “Darkness, Darkness,” in which drug-crazed Curtis reflects on social ills of the times, played out amid historic images in Lianne Arnold’s smashing projection design. Mitchell masters her moments of emotional turmoil (“Theme from Valley of the Dolls”), as well as her exuberant duets with Carpenter.

Eric Anderson is charismatic as the ebullient River, who leads fellow tribe members in showstopping group numbers such as “Spinning Wheel,” graced by Lee Martino’s knockout choreography. As the sensible anchor for the group of rambunctious free spirits, Strong imparts inspirational messages in songs such as “Make Your Own Kind of Music.”

Among other standout turns by actors playing the tribes members are Christine Horn’s heart-wrenching lament “Pieces of My Heart,” Michel J. Willett’s joyful “Somebody to Love” and Callie Carson’s deeply moving “One Tin Soldier,” augmented by wonderful interpretive dance movements performed by Katrice Gavino. In other roles, Scott Kruse, James May, Frank Lawson and Alyssa M. Simmons relish their moments to shine.

The spell becomes complete with sensationally evocative period designs by Michael Carnahan (sets), Jean-Yves Tessier (lighting) and Shon LeBlanc (costumes)—a cornucopia of swirling colors and psychedelic imagery. The stellar efforts of music directors Michael Borth and Michael Paternostro and their onstage band seal the deal.

Summer of LoveBy Les SpindleApril 6, 2011

Page 3: Summer of Love Press Packet

Musical Theatre West brings audiences back to the 1960s in its latest show, Summer of Love. The performance showcases popular songs and events from the hippie era.

Summer of Love—directed, written and created by Roger Bean—premiered last weekend at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center.

Like the “Summer of Love” phenomenon, the musical is set in the 1967 Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco.

The musical begins with runaway bride Holly (Melissa Mitchell), who arrives at the scene while the hippies sing and dance. At first, Holly resists the lifestyle of the flower children, but through ‘60s hits like “Everyday People,” “Somebody to Love” and “One Tin Soldier,” she opens her heart to a new lifestyle.

Mitchell is a small girl with a big voice. She aces her renditions of classics like “Valley of the Dolls,” “Make Your Own Kind of Music” and “Let Me Be.” These songs showcase Holly’s progress as she moves away from the idea of settling down in an “ugly house” on Mulberry Street, and gears toward a life of political rebellion and individuality.

Before Holly’s fiance Curtis (Doug Carpenter) shows up, the amazing Coyote (Michael J. Willett) delivers one of the best numbers of the night. Willett, an actor on the Emmy Award-winning series United States of Tara, does a stand out performance of “Somebody to Love.” He’s also of small stature, but his voice is larger than life and he also possesses strong comedic talent.

Carpenter steals the show with his rendition of “Darkness, Darkness.” As he sings his version of the Vietnam War anthem, a screen behind him displays significant images and videos from the ‘60s, including the famous photo of flowers in a gun barrel.

What is interesting about Summer of Love is that it is not only about one person changing her views of life. The beginning might suggest that the play centers on Holly, since the audience doesn’t see Curtis until the end of the first half, but the musical takes one young couple, from the “beige” city of Sausalito, and shows their different journeys during the “Summer of Love” in San Francisco.

Holly and Curtis are great central characters. However, most of the entertainment comes from the hippies. Saige (Christine Horn)

Groovin’ to the Summer of LoveBy Laura AguirreApril 4, 2011

is a sassy black woman with long legs. Her storyline is brought to the forefront when she sings “Piece of My Heart” to ladies man River (Eric Anderson). Horn has the soul of Erma Franklin, but the edge of Janis Joplin to make her performance one of the best of the show.

River is one of the main hippies, and he’s the first one who lures Holly into the scene. His swinging hips make him one of the more eccentric stars of the night, even among hippies.

Janis (Callie Carson) brings sweetness to Summer of Love. She’s a real dim-wit, but it’s exactly that quality that makes her character stand out, and Carson plays that character strongly to the very end.

Mama (Victoria Strong) oversees all of the hippies. She’s the oldest, but also the kindest. She’s wise, making her character somewhat god-like because she’s there to protect the younger hippies, but also to tell them what’s right and wrong.

While it’s nice to listen to ‘60s songs in a Broadway kind of way, and see people dressed as hippies, Summer of Love also sends a message of individualism and the importance of fighting for freedom.

Page 4: Summer of Love Press Packet

To borrow a phrase, it’s “two thumbs up” for a Summer of Love, starring Michele Lee at the Ogunquit Playhouse.Summer of Love offers a powerful and talented look at the morays and the message of the 1960s, through the

character of Holly (played by Missy Dowse) who gets cold feet as she readies a trip to the altar.Scared by the prospects of accepting a “white picket fence” marriage she runs, finding herself welcomed to San

Francisco’s hippy haven, Haight-Ashbury, during the “Summer of Love,” 1967. There she is welcomed to the lifestyle, complete with communal outdoor living (no porta-potties), free love and, of course, mind-expanding drugs.

Holly’s tale and the message of the “love generation” is narrated in enthusiastic fashion by the music that was “the message” of the flower generation, and a cast of characters that brought the audience to its feet in praise at the end of Thursday’s opening night performance.

In Summer of Love songs such as “Darkness, Darkness,” “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” “Piece of My Heart” and “Grazing In the Grass” lace together the lives of the musical’s characters.

There’s Mama, played by Michelle Lee (of Knots Landing fame). Mama, also known as Mother Nature, is driven to the hippy lifestyle in bitter anger and revolt after the Vietnam War claims the life of her son. It is her wisdom of years that newcomers to Haight-Ashbury seek, and find solace in.

The would-be groom, Curtis, is played by Doug Carpenter. As Curtis tracks down and tries to persuade Holly to come back to the safety of upper-class Sausalito, located safely across the bay, he is introduced to the promises made by the drug culture and a no-commitment lifestyle.

In perhaps one of the musical’s most riveting scenes, the lyrics of “Crystal Blue Persuasion” are paired with psychedelic lighting, dance and electronic imagery to offer a glimpse of an idyllic mind-expanding experience advocated by the gospel according to Dr. Timothy Leary.

But the story line, musical selections, special effects and staging don’t tell the whole story of Summer of Love’s success.

The heart of the musical lies exactly there—in its music and lyrics that offers it—along with some Broadway and off-Broadway-aspiring talent. Standout performances (and there were many) come from Soara-Joye Ross (Saige) and Bets Malone (Janis) who call on the spirit of 1960’s departed greats like Janis Joplin and Mama Cass. Colin Israel, in the role of Coyote draws rapt attention when he sings in the heart-tugging style of the times. And no review would be complete without mentioning the talent of Frank Lawson, who plays Rufus. His tonal range more than makes him a standout.

Also impressive, is the Playhouse’s willingness to host a new production. Unlike most of the Playhouse’s offerings which have been proven elsewhere—including Broadway—Summer of Love is a new offering by author and director Roger Bean. Thursday’s opening was the East Coast premiere for Summer of Love.

Whether Summer of Love will make Broadway in coming years is open to debate, but it shows promise. Its story line is appealing and broad for reasons beyond the music and plot line.

The highly controversial decade of the 1960s is seen through many different eyes. There is the war veteran spit upon when returning home; protesters shouting such chants as, “Hey, hey, LBJ—How many kids have you killed today?” (from the musical); and, of course, the hippy mantra of peace and love.

This means that Summer of Love can be seen through many different eyes and in many different ways. But perhaps the best way would be to not overanalyze, just enjoy an evening of musical theater.

If that is how Summer of Love catches its wave, seeing the musical now might very likely give theatergoers the chance someday to be part of Broadway history.

Ogunquit Playhouse’s Summer of Love powerful, riveting, entertainingBy Buzz DietterleJune 26, 2011

Page 5: Summer of Love Press Packet

For whatever reason, the concept of the “jukebox musical” has often tended to have a negative connotation, perhaps because the casting of a story and characters from existing songs can come off as synthetic.

In some cases, though, all of the pieces fall into place. Summer of Love, now in its world premiere production at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, is one such musical, a heady mixture of the idealism, psychedelic images and, most crucially, of the counterculture music of the late 1960s.

Roger Bean, the show’s creator and the director of Musical Theatre West’s highly laudable staging, excels within the jukebox genre, having created and crafted such shows as The Marvelous Wonderettes, Honky Tonk Laundry and The Andrews Brothers.

What’s stunning about Summer of Love is how it resurrects both the good feelings and the tensions swirling around San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district circa 1967, the year whose summer was dubbed the “summer of love” for the way it embodied the hippie ethos of brotherhood and tolerance, expanding of one’s mind and eschewing of bloody military conflicts like the Vietnam War.

Of course, crafting a conventional, musical theater-style storyline in which nearly two-dozen

1960s hits could seemingly flow naturally would be daunting without such conventional elements as a boy-girl romance.

Bean’s plot focuses not upon the gaggle of hippies who live hand-to-mouth in a brightly colored Volkswagen bus and in nearby Golden Gate Park, but on Holly (Melissa Mitchell), a young lady from across the bay who has just fled her impending wedding in a panic.

Determined not to wind up like her stuffy, hidebound parents, Holly crosses the Golden Gate Bridge on foot and winds up in the park, where she encounters a small commune who call themselves “The Tribe.” Summer of Love follows the next 24 hours in her life as she and the hippies strive for mutual understanding while her betrothed, Curtis (Doug Carpenter), tracks her down and tries to win her back.

As the story elements coalesce around Holly and Curtis, the score unfurls with superb, period rock-‘n’-roll songs made famous by The Mamas and the Papas, Jefferson Airplane, Linda Ronstadt, Janis Joplin and Blood, Sweat and Tears, among others.

Engulfed by The Tribe’s outspoken members, Holly is just a babe in the woods, and the willowy, delicate-looking Mitchell aptly portrays her as equally confused and intrigued by the alternative lifestyle. And though Carpenter’s tall, clean-

Summer of Love brings the ‘60s to lifeBy Eric MarcheseApril 6, 2011

cut Curtis seems to intensely dislike these denizens of “Hashbury,” each time he storms offstage, he’s drawn back, and you get the feeling that before long he might even join them.

The 10 hippies themselves are all appealingly played, with each given some distinctive character hook. Their de facto leader is the Mother Earth figure everyone calls “Mama.” Well-portrayed by musical theater veteran Victoria Strong, she is strong-willed, calm and wise, and in her focal musical numbers, such as “Get Together,” Strong comes off much like Judy Collins and other ‘60s folkies.

Eric Anderson, another local veteran talent, obviously enjoys essaying the buffoonish River, an outrageous hippie whose credo of free love doesn’t always sit well with his various ladies. Like Strong, his specialty numbers are solid—notably “Signs,” in which his singing blisters, and “Spinning Wheel,” where his vocals resemble those of David Clayton-Thomas.

Considering the show’s scope, the 12-person cast is relatively small. Yet no weak links exist, with each cast member enjoying his or her time in the spotlight. Highlights include Alyssa M. Simmons’ performance of “White Rabbit,” Frank Lawson’s “War,” Michael J. Willett’s “San Francisco,” Christine Horn’s “Piece of My Heart,” Mitchell’s “Valley of the Dolls” and Carpenter’s “This


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Page 6: Summer of Love Press Packet

Guy’s In Love With You.”Musical directors Michael

Borth and Michael Paternostro have gleaned authentic-sounding work from the entire cast and onstage rock band, working from Borth’s successfully realized arrangements and orchestrations.

The production’s visual elements are no less impressive, what with Lee Martino and Bradley Benjamin’s joyous, flowing choreography, Shon LeBlanc’s costume designs and Michael Carnahan’s set, which resembles two large, open-air lofts. As crucial to the show’s emotional tenor are Jean-Yves Tessier’s often psychedelic lighting and Lianne Arnold’s stunning projections, which palpably resurrect the conflicts of the late ‘60s with images of Vietnam and of politically and racially based protests.

The wonderful, deeply evocative music aside, what most stands out about Summer of Love is how it avoids clichés. Its hippies aren’t freaks any more than Holly and Curtis are squares. They’re all just in search of common ground.

Summer of Love brings the ‘60s to lifeBy Eric MarcheseApril 6, 2011 Page 2 of 2

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The current production at Ogunquit Playhouse takes us back to an era known as Flower Power that had its own mores, morals and music. It was a time when countless teens and twenty-somethings used music to change a culture, paralyze a political career and sharpen a nation’s focus on an unjust war being waged and lost in Vietnam.

Summer of Love is not an angry or polemic production—quite the contrary. It is interesting to watch an audience turn skepticism at the outset of the musical to foot-stomping standing ovations at the end. In its own way, the audience’s conversion was a microcosm of what the flower children virtually achieved over four decades ago.

There is a story running under the 24 songs in the production. By the way, there is not a bad voice in the entire cast but special kudos should go to Soara-Joye Ross, who has a set of pipes that set her apart from the rest of a very, very talented cast of vocalists.

But back to our story: Holly, the quite capable Missy Dowse, has left her intended husband at the altar over in Sausalito and wandered into Haight-Ashbury, the hippie Vatican, looking for something she feels is missing in her life. She is dressed in a virginal white dress, and the assortment of hippie characters make great fun of this young thing who has wandered into their midst. She, of course, is aghast at the goings-on between the flower children even though each one, in his or her own way, tries to sing an explanation.

Finally, Mama, played by stage, screen and television star Michele Lee, makes her appearance and it is immediately evident she is conqueror of the corner. In addition to a couple of head slaps, she offers advice to her brood of balladeers.

But Act One belongs to Holly, and Act Two is dominated by the extremely talented Doug Carpenter, the young man left at the altar. He arrives, resplendent in a tuxedo, at hippy-happy Haight by following the flower petals Holly strewed across the Golden Gate Bridge. He has several great lines, one of the more memorable when Holly says she’s doesn’t want to return to Sausalito. His reply? “But your father has given me his corner office!” It becomes a case of flower power vs. sour power.

The rest of the musical is a tribute to technicians who too often are ignored for their contributions. In Summer of Love, Musical Director Michael Borth deserves high praise, as does Lighting Director Richard Latta, both of whom take the audience on a psychedelic trip with magical use of music and lighting.

We will not spoil the end for you because there are more than a couple of surprises. Suffice to say that Summer of Love is a lovely way to start your summer. Go see it and rake up a memory or two from the music, which goes from the melodic to the foot-tapping, knee-knocking kind. If you’ve got a song in your soul, you’ll enjoy it.

Hip, hip (horray!) for Summer of LoveBy Joe SheehanJune 30, 2011

Page 8: Summer of Love Press Packet

I’ve no idea what the weather was like in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district the summer of 1967, but America’s political climate was hot indeed. The total number of U.S. troops in Vietnam had reached 475,000 with the number and size of anti-war demonstrations increasing in equal proportion on our home turf. Cleveland and Newark saw race rioting and looting in the streets and 7,000 National Guard were brought in to restore law and order to a riot-ravaged Detroit. As for the San Francisco district known as The Haight, its streets and parks were full of “tribes” of pro-peace “flower children,” whose use of recreational drugs gave Haight-Ashbury the affectionately stoned nickname of “Hashbury.”

Musical theater fans are, of course, familiar with this era through Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical, which debuted off-Broadway only a month after that summer of political protest (with its accompanying messages of peace, love and understanding) turned into fall.

Now, forty-four years later, Roger Bean (the creative force behind the nostalgic musical hits The Marvelous Wonderettes, The Andrews Brothers and Life Could Be a Dream) creates his own jukebox-musical look back at that Hashbury summer of ’67 in Summer of Love, now getting a big-stage World Premiere at Long Beach’s Musical Theatre West under the assured direction of its multitalented creator.

As with Bean’s previous smashes, Summer of Love strings together Top Forty hits, but unlike the lighter, frothier Wonderettes or the boys who sang that “Life Could Be a Dream,” this time there’s not only a good deal more plotline but considerably more depth, resulting in a musical that (and I risk being accused of heresy by Hair fanatics) I enjoyed even more than the iconic Tribal Love-Rock Musical, though the two shows could easily interchange a number of characters.

Both musicals call their band of flower people “The Tribe,” and while Hair’s entered to the strains of “Aquarius,” Summer of Love’s flower children arrive in an

honest-to-goodness VW van, joining voices to celebrate “Grazing In the Grass”—it’s a gas, can you dig it? This tribe, with names like Saige, Dizzy, Donovan and Rufus, soon find a stranger in their midst, a young woman in a filthy bridal gown, who arrives asking for directions “to the nearest Howard Johnson’s, please?”

Instead of a “Walk three blocks and turn left” answer, this fish out of water is offered pot tokes by a dozen or so tribe members as their leader River (Eric Anderson) asks Holly a sincere if cryptic, “Why the mojo for the hojo?” Like a real-life Dorothy arriving in Oz, Sausalito’s Holly (Melissa Mitchell) quickly realizes that she’s not in the suburbs anymore. This well-brought-up bride-to-be has arrived in her own Emerald City, aka Hippie Hills, aka Hashbury, aka San Francisco’s fabled Haight.

Holly soon learns that everything she has is theirs, as tribe members rifle through her suitcase and begin dividing up her stuff until halted by Mother Nature, aka Mama (Victoria Strong), who gives Holly a “hatful of happiness from the universe of love” and explains to the privileged daughter of the upper middle class that the reason they’re living on common ground in the park is that they are just (song cue) “Everyday People.”

Perhaps sensing that a Howard Johnson’s isn’t really where she wants to be right now, Holly agrees to stay “just for the night,” and though she maintains steadfastly that she’s “not running from anything” but is “just on a short vacation,” she later reveals her need to “get out of this merry-go-round” and “get on where I’m bound” in “Theme from Valley of the Dolls.”

It doesn’t take Holly long to realize that life in Hippie Hills isn’t anything like the one she’s used to. Afro-sporting Saige (Christine Horn) may be dating River, but she’s not his only girlfriend. “He’s the guy your mother warned you about,” Saige cautions Holly, who realizes she’s not alone in her flight from suburbia when Mama informs her that “everybody on Hippie Hill is running away from something,” then gives her musical advice to “Make Your Own Kind of Music.”

Summer of LoveBy Steven StanleyApril 3, 2011


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Hashbury turns out to be a popular destination for Gray Line tour busses, whose sightseers the Tribe welcome with BRING THE TROOPS HOME protest signs and a chorus of Edwin Starr’s “War,” led by Black Power figure Rufus (Frank Lawson).

Other Tribe members include ditzy flower child Janis (Callie Carson), who hands out origami flowers with fortune cookie sayings on each petal and Daisy (Katrice Gavino), a young Asian who has taken a vow of silence until there is peace, a cue for Janis to belt out “One Tin Soldier” as Daisy dances, finally collapsing in sobs at the end of the song. (Yes indeed, Summer of Love does have its darker moments.)

Holly develops a special bond with Coyote (Michael J. Willett), a sassy gay teen who informs her in no uncertain terms that, “Honey, not even Mother’s children are as tragic as that dress,” which he soon “redesigns” into a mini-dress while giving her long locks “Hairapy.” Coyote then asks Holly if she doesn’t want “Somebody to Love,” revealing at the song’s powerful conclusion that he’s found his own same-sex somebody in Donovan (James May).

Anyone who expects Holly not to be found by her abandoned fiancé clearly has not read the Romantic Comedy Handbook, for jilted groom Curtis (Doug Carpenter) soon arrives, confessing that “This Guy’s In Love With You” just before accusing the Tribe of being nothing but “a bunch of freaks living with no rules.” Curtis’s intolerance being the last straw, Holly informs him in no uncertain terms (and in song) that they travel to the beat of a “Different Drum,” that she just wants him to “Let Me Be,” and that she has decided to stay with the tribe.

Since this is only the end of Act One, anything is possible for Holly, for Curtis and for everyone else during Summer of Love’s second act, which includes song highlights “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers In Your Hair),” “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” “Piece of My Heart” and “One.” As in Hair, there’s an LSD trip

sequence, with “Crystal Blue Persuasion,” “Spinning Wheel” and “White Rabbit” preceding a morning-after wakeup call to “Darkness Darkness” and a montage of images of the darker side of the late 1960s.

It’s hard to imagine a stronger cast for Summer of Love’s World Premiere than the one assembled by Musical Theatre West, headed by LA-to-Broadway transplant Anderson, making a welcome (albeit brief) return to the West Coast in an all-around terrific “peace, love and sexual healing” performance. Premier leading man Carpenter gives his thrilling baritone a nifty “character” touch that fits stuffed shirt Curtis to a T, and the exquisite Mitchell’s gorgeous belt makes for a striking contrast with her romcom ingénue role. Speaking of belts, you won’t hear stronger ones than Carson’s (“One Tin Soldier”), Horn’s (“Everyday People” “Dream a Little Dream of Me”) or Alyssa M. Simmons’ (“Crystal Blue Persuasion”), the latter song a duet between Simmons’s Willow and a delightfully hippy-dippy Scott Kruse as the fittingly named Dizzy. Willett continues to prove himself outrageously charismatic and triple-threat talented, and it’s always a pleasure to see the marvelous (and once again bewigged) May on our stages, especially following his fine work as Claude in the award-winning Chance Theater revival of Hair. Gavino proves a graceful dancer and Lawson a powerful soul artist. As for musical theater leading lady extraordinaire Strong, she is once again a vocal wonder in the role of Mama, and probably the only character or performer ever to have declared “Only an asshole is afraid of the future” in a Musical Theatre West production.

Summer of Love benefits greatly from musical directors Michael Borth (also musical arranger/orchestrator) and Michael Paternostro, and the ever varied and exciting choreography of Lee Martino.

Scenic designer Michael Carnahan fills the Carpenter Center stage with a huge, acid-trippy, multi-purpose set, made even more psychedelically vivid by Jean-Yves Tessier’s vibrant lighting design, which includes

Summer of LoveBy Steven StanleyApril 3, 2011 Page 2 of 3


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multicolored florescents, garlands of Christmas lights and flower “decals” projected onto the stage, in addition to a bunch of sensational LSD trip lighting effects preceding a stark white morning after. Shon LeBlanc’s late ‘60s costumes are, needless to say, a nostalgic visual treat. Julie Ferrin’s sound design is once again impeccable. Other designers/techies deserving thumbs up include technical director Kevin Clowes, wigs designer Mark Travis Hoyer, projections designer Lianne Arnold, stage manager Nathan Genung and assistant stage manager Mary Ritenhour. Bets Malone is assistant to the director and Bradley Benjamin is assistant to the choreographer.

Kudos to Roger Bean for taking chances with an edgier new musical, one which could well irk those who supported America’s involvement in Vietnam to the bitter end, and those who may be uncomfortable with the show’s rawer language and sexuality than has been the case in any of his previous confections. As a film, Summer of Love would surely be rated PG-13 for language, sexuality and drug use, and I say “Way to go!”

I enjoyed every minute of Summer of Love, a summer that was a good deal more exciting than my own at the age of seventeen, just graduated from Santa Monica High school and on my way to UCLA. Summer of Love made me nostalgic for what was and what might have been had I gone to San Francisco with flowers in my hair, and has me once more celebrating the excitement of welcoming a brand new American musical into our midst.

Summer of LoveBy Steven StanleyApril 3, 2011 Page 3 of 3

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Roger Bean’s new jukebox musical, Summer of Love, now premiering at Musical Theatre West, covers the same time period as Hair, and while the show lacks the heft of that monumental musical, offering a much more pasteurized—and extremely tuneful—version of life in the late 1960s, it’s undeniably fun.

Runaway bride Holly (Melissa Mitchell) has avoided her big day by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, clad in her classy white wedding dress, and ends up wandering around San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury. She is taken in by a commune of flower children, and begins to explore her independence as she sheds the bourgeois box in which her family has locked her. However, the backdrop of the war, heavy drugs and civil unrest of the period are only touched upon, while the smells of incense and the sound of the sitar are fully present.

Unlike so many musicals that shoehorn songs into characters’ mouths without good reason, Summer of Love feels fully integrated. Take Holly’s rendition of “The Theme from Valley of the Dolls,” which speaks directly to her confusion, or Mama Cass’ “Make Your Own Kind of Music” sung by the group’s sage, Mama (Victoria Strong), while welcoming Holly to a life of freedom.

In addition, musical directors Michael Borth and Michel Paternostro crisply expand the melodies of such hot hits as Edwin Starr’s “War” and Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” and Lee Martino’s choreography takes the lackadaisical movements of the period and adds a thrilling mixture of precision and passion.

Michael Carnahan has built a playground of a set that lends context to the period, while costume designer Shon LeBlanc has fun using flea market wares, particularly a Bloody Mary-stained wedding dress that easily converts into a sassy mini.

Most importantly, there is not a weak link in Bean’s cast, including Mitchell and Strong. Alyssa M. Simmons naughty rendition of “White Rabbit” is both haunting and titillating. Michael J. Willett brings warmth and youthful sexuality to “Somebody to Love” and “San Francisco.”

Doug Carpenter brings charm into his numbers. Callie Carson, utilized for comic relief, brings a dizzy bliss to her line readings. Above all, jaws drop when Christine Horn opens her mouth; her powerhouse rendition of Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” is electric as is her painful rendition of “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”

Summer of LoveBy Jonas SchwartzApril 6, 2011