'Trip of Love': Theater Review

Trip of Love Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Nicole Capatasto

Bad enough to make you wish they sold the theatrical equivalent of travel insurance.

Creator-director-choreographer James Walski's dance-heavy musical revue features over 25 classic pop songs of the 1960s.

There aren't enough drugs on the planet to make Trip of Love anything but a bad trip. James Walski's musical revue celebrating the pop songs of the 1960s opens off-Broadway after receiving its world premiere in 2008 in Osaka, Japan. There, according to the program, it received the "generous support of the city of Osaka." Unlikely to receive similar beneficence on these shores, this ghastly show is destined to become merely the latest in a long line of bombs presented at Stage 42, formerly the Little Shubert Theater, the owners of which should seriously consider making a pact with the devil.

This is the kind of dance spectacle that might seem palatable halfway through a lengthy cruise and immediately after a gut-busting, booze-infused buffet dinner. The show features more than 25 hits immediately recognizable to a certain generation, ranging from the sublime ("What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted," "The Girl from Ipanema") to the kitschy (too numerous to mention, although it's impossible not to groove along to songs like "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" and "Downtown").

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With the walls of the theater covered in psychedelic projections of flowers, the show begins, as a director's note helpfully informs us, with a young woman, Caroline (Kelly Felthous), falling down the proverbial rabbit hole (cue "White Rabbit"), ingesting a magic mushroom (sadly unavailable at the concession stand), and subsequently having a trippy dream that mainly seems inspired by vintage television variety shows.

The attempt at a plot structure is thereafter abandoned, with the show proceeding to deliver one dance-heavy musical number after another, as performed by a seven-member principal cast and an ensemble numbering a dozen. The costumes by Gregg Barnes (Something Rotten, Kinky Boots, Aladdin) are generally of the skimpy variety, with the men going shirtless as often as possible. If nothing else, the incredibly well-toned cast serves as an advertisement for their gyms.

A high-camp factor is frequently in evidence — the giddy surfers perched on cardboard waves performing "Wipeout"; the painter using a human canvas on "Venus"; the newly married couple ascending in a balloon to the strains of "Up, Up and Away"; the pop star being pursued by rabid female fans while singing "It's Not Unusual."

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Occasionally, creator-director-choreographer Walski strains for more serious themes, to disastrous effect. Despite its mordant antiwar lyrics, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" is crooned in a pastoral picnic setting. "If You Go Away" is transformed into a protest song performed by a female singer accompanied by two hunky men stripping down to tighty whities before donning fatigues, at least providing a deeper meaning to the lyric, "Leave me just enough love to fill up my hand."

The performers give it their all, possibly owing their endless energy and exuberance to the fact that they are at least employed, and some, such as Laurie Wells, show off impressive pipes. Why the actors have character names, I have no idea, although the skimpy framework is picked up at the end when the young woman who fell down the rabbit hole sings "The Way of Love" before proceeding to march through the auditorium and out the exit door. The rest of us could hardly wait to follow.

Cast: Austin Miller, Laurie Wells, Kelly Felthous, Tara Palsha, David Elder, Dionne Figgins, Joey Calveri
Creator-director-choreographer: James Walski
Set designers: James Walski, Robin Wagner
Costume designer: Gregg Barnes
Lighting designer: Tamotsu Harada
Sound designers: Peter Fitzgerald, Dominic Sack
Presented by Makoto Deguchi, Hiroki Kozawa, Masu H. Masuyama, in association with Debi Coleman, Takeo Nakanishi and Kunihiko Ukifune