By the time I went to high school in the early 80s, Woodstock had already taken on the patina of myth. Many of my friends were into the music of that time. We rejected the Jordache jeans of the current fad to wear, instead, Levis and T-shirts from concerts we had been to. But we also knew the 60s were about more than clothes. We romanticized that era, lamenting the fact that the 80s lacked style and a unifying cause to get behind, like the Vietnam War. (We would find our causes once we got to college; one thing you learn as you get older is that there is never a shortage of causes to fight for.) Apparently the Woodstock myth is alive and well at the end of the 1990s. The show currently at Theatre 80 celebrates the summer of 1969, a time of vibrant youth, foibles and all, in an affectionate and joyous way.
Summer ‘69, the story of friends making their way to Woodstock from their homes in suburban Long Island, has an informal street-theatre feel to it, though the staging and choreography is fluid. It was hard to resist the urge to get up and dance; most of the audience was swaying and tapping their feet to the music. Though most of the songs in the show were not actually performed at Woodstock, they evoked the time powerfully. The show is never overly didactic or preachy, but does remind us of the issues of that generation: the war in Vietnam; the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy; it was a time of youth trying to change the world and believing they could.
The music is performed live by a terrific band, which includes E. Alyssa Claar, a singer who pays convincing homage to Janis Joplin. Some of the songs included are John Sebastian’s “Summer in the City,” Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A’Changin’,” Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children Well,” and Grace Slick’s “White Rabbit.” Some songs are performed as a concert and others are woven into the story line.
Colleen McMillan is to be applauded for her realistic costume design. So many things I have seen set in the 60s and 70s design the costumes with cartoonishly garish colors. The characters in Summer ‘69 look like real people from that time, and though many of those fashions are “in” again, it doesn’t look contemporary; it looks authentic.
I went to see Summer ‘69 with my friend Mahreen, who just graduated from high school. I asked her to come because I was curious about her perspective on the events of 30 years ago which involved people her age. We both enjoyed the show a great deal, and left the theatre singing. Its multigenerational appeal was apparent in the entire audience, which was made up of people of all ages. One last anecdote will act as a caveat, though, if you think of taking someone much younger than you are. After the show, Mahreen said, “People fight for different things politically, but teenagers never change. They are into getting laid, music, pot, and all the fun stuff we can’t do when we’re your age.” As she said this, she patted me on the shoulder. I had been watching the show, identifying with the teenagers, and she had been watching it, identifying me with the parents. The times, they are a’changin’.
Summer ‘69, book by Bill Van Horn & Ellen Michelmore and Leer Paul Leary. Directed by Bruce Lumpkin. Scenic Design by John Farrel. Costume Design by Colleen McMillan. Lighting Design by Jeffrey Koger. Sound Design by James Tomaselli. Featuring E. Alyssa Claar, Jamie Hurley, Brian Maillard, Ron McClary, Kirk McGee, Anne Moore, Rik Sansone, Christine M. Williamson. Theatre: (Until August 8) Theatre 80, 80 St. Marks Place at 1st Avenue. (After August 8) The Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, 432 West 42nd Street.
Schedule: Monday, Wednesday & Thursday at 8pm, Friday & Saturday at 7pm & 10pm, Sunday at 7pm.
Tickets: $40 for all shows. There are $12 student rush tickets available 1 hour before the show, on a first come-first served basis.
To order tickets, call (212) 307-4100
Also see Wendy's recent review of After the Fair