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Dream a Little Dream

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

If you liked Love, Janis, you'll love Dream a Little Dream. The new show at the Village Theatre has just about everything going for it that its predecessor (at this theater) did: Ear-splitting pop music, the barest bones of a story to link the songs together, and even the direction of Randal Myler.

About the only thing Dream a Little Dream has that Love, Janis didn't is the direct participation of one of the people it deals with. Denny Doherty co-wrote the show (with Paul Ledoux) and is the central singer and narrator in the story about the establishment, success, and eventual breakup of the 1960s-70s musical group The Mamas and the Papas in which he was one of the four members.

It's about perhaps the most famous member of the group that Dream a Little Dream focuses on most. In fact, the entire show is something of a love letter to "Mama" Cass Elliot, in which Doherty details his meeting the talented singer in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s (not far away from where the show is playing now), and their on-again-off-again relationship, occasionally aided but more frequently strained by the involvement of the other two members of the group, John and Michelle Phillips.

It takes almost the entire show for Doherty to musically consummate his relationship with Elliot. His singing of "Dream a Little Dream of Me" to her late in the second act marks Dream a Little Dream's first truly emotional moment, the first (and only) time it transcends familiarity, becoming less about the band and more about the people in the band. That the show also becomes more interesting and watchable at that point is hardly a coincidence.

But as earlier attempts, primarily dealing with the love triangle between Doherty, John, and Michelle, fall flat, there's the overwhelming sense that it's not a concern. The goal, after all, was to concoct a musical with music from The Mamas and the Papas, and with songs like "Dedicated to the One I Love," "California Dreamin'," "Monday Monday," and "Creeque Alley," how could the show not succeed, on some level, musically? The band, under Ed Alstrom's musical direction, is effective, but on low simmer, much like Doherty's backup.

Richard Burke, Angela Gaylor, and Doris Mason are talented and look something like the other members of The Mamas and the Papas, but can't recreate the true magic of the group itself. The visual pyrotechnics of Jan Hartley's never-ending projections and David C. Woolard's 1960s costumes don't help much either. They're fine, but limited to theatrical acid trips, collages, and the occasional film strip, they don't (and can't) make up for the emotional or theatrical interest that's simply not present.

But to Myler, Doherty, and potential audiences who may no doubt thrill to a quasi-reunion concert of The Mamas and the Papas, none of that is likely to matter. The music and Doherty are the selling points, and as they're the central focus of Dream a Little Dream, it makes sense to devote to them the bulk of two and a half hours. That's fine as far as it goes, but don't expect much else to stick around even that long after the show is over.

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Dream a Little Dream
Village Theatre, 158 Bleecker Street between Sullivan and Thompson Streets
Tickets online: Ticketmaster