I've said it before, but it is hard to find a more perfect venue than The McCallum Theatre for just about any theatrical production of any genre. And it was great to be back, as The McCallum kicks off it's 25th Anniversary Season – a season that promises to feature something for everyone – from Howie Mandell to Jackie Evancho, from Rock of Ages to Beauty And The Beast to West Side Story, and from Barbara Cook and Michael Feinstein to Yo Yo Ma and Chris Botti. Last night The McCallum played host to a multi-media touring production called THIS IS THE 60's and it was a great "warm up act" for everything that will follow. For those who came back for the second half, after a somewhat "underwhelming" first Act (there was a minor exodus in the parking lot at intermission), it turned out to be a rousing evening of musical nostalgia that brought the crowd to their feet dancing in the aisles – literally.
Most of the credit for the show's appeal goes directly to producer/director Jim Duffy who found a way to prop up a rather average "cover band" with as many audio/visual effects as he could fit into this two hour-plus concert. The real star of the show was NOT the band -- it was the newsreel clips, classic television commercials and production designer Greg Duffy's non-stop graphic projections on four floor to ceiling screens. The real footage of news and events and classic television had the audience enraptured. (Remember when gas was 23 cents a gallon, or the when Fred and Wilma Flintstone pushed the virtues of cigarettes in television commercials?) The performers were a hit and a miss.
The show had a definitive formula. Documentary-like footage led us into each of the five "eras" of rock and roll in the sixties – from the early years, through the British Invasion to The Woodstock Nation. Then the band performed a set of songs that detailed that "era" and changed costumes for each set – including wigs that looked a little ridiculous on several of the band-mates. Daryn Owen and Joan Burton proved to be the band's strongest vocalists. Burton's "White Rabbit" was a showstopper. Dave Krol, who played keyboards and also led some of the vocals, seemed clumsy and awkward on stage and lumbered around in bad wigs much of the time seeming more like a clown than a rock and roller. Freddie Trumbower on drums had the strongest presence and energy throughout and his drum solo in Act Two was a highlight. The sound mix in Act One was off the mark and I kept thinking I had never heard that lack of sound quality at The McCallum. It was better in Act Two.
The show also featured two "Go-Go Dancers" that at times added much needed energy and variety to the show -- but their repetitive "freestyle and un-choreographed movement" became so predictable, with only a costume change to differentiate one song from the next, that it soon began to detract from the overall production. One number that made use of anti-war picket signs just came off as silly. They also performed a lyrical duet to "Whiter Shade Of Pale" that seemed a little "boxed in" in a limited area downstage and didn't really show the dancers off in a very credible way.
Act Two proved to be much stronger than Act One. The electric guitars and the newly amplified sound added a much needed energy to the band and they seemed more at home delivering the harder edged songs ("Jumpin Jack Flash" , "Piece Of My Heart" and "Fire") than the softer rock tunes in Act One. Much of the folk rock music styles rely on great harmonies and they were a hit and a miss. "Happy Together" was the strongest vocal in Act One – the harmonies were right on the mark and the audience reacted accordingly. "Abraham, Martin and John", performed by Owen, was heartfelt and beautiful. Burton's "Piece Of My Heart" was filled with just the right angst and soul and power.
It was great fun to re-visit a decade so full of great music, great style, great fashion and great passion. Duffy selected some of the best music of the decade and the arrangements played worthy homage to the originals. I, along with many members of the audience, felt it went about 20 minutes too long, as evidenced by members of the audience, two by two, leaving about three quarters through Act Two before the band's encore. Less sometimes really IS more – and I think judiciously cutting 20 minutes off the show would make it a more successful evening, especially since the formula established at the beginning of the show holds no surprises as the evening wears on. All in all, I wouldn't have missed this fun, frivolous, nostalgic evening in the theatre and, as I said at the outset, it provided a fantastic warm-up for the incredible season to come.