The Mamas and the Papas became a sensation by melding traditional folk music and the new sounds of '60s rock and roll with their signature sound of tight intricate harmonies. The group recorded and performed from 1965 to 1968 with a short reunion in 1971, releasing five albums and ten hit singles. The Mamas and the Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000. The group was formed when the folk groups The Mugwumps and The New Journeymen split up, with former members Denny Doherty, John Phillips and his wife Michelle Phillips forming a new group. Cass Elliot was the last member to join. After briefly going under the name The Magic Circle, the group renamed themselves The Mamas and the Papas before signing a five-album contract with Dunhill Records.
The debut album in 1966, If You Can believe Your Eyes and Ears, became their first and only number one album on the Billboard 200. The album contained the singles "California Dreamin'" and "Monday, Monday," which was the band's first and only number one hit in the United States. It was this song that first brought the group international success.
When it was discovered Michelle Phillips and Doherty were having an affair, tension in the band erupted. They drafted a formal statement kicking Michelle out of the group in June of 1966 and hired a new singer to replace Michelle, Jill Gibson, who was the girlfriend of their producer Lou Adler. After a majority of the album was completed, Michelle was asked to rejoin the group and Gibson was let go for an undisclosed lump sum. Michelle recorded vocals on two songs, and the album was later released with Gibson's vocals on the rest of the album.
The band then recorded its third album, Deliver. The second single from the album, "Dedicated to the One I Love," gave the band a comeback. But, as the closing act of the first Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967, the band members had been so caught up in the festival they never got around to rehearsing, and they performed dismally. During this time Doherty was drinking heavily, trying to get over Michelle Phillips.
While recording their fourth album in October of 1967, The Mamas and the Papas traveled to England. At a party thrown by Dunhill Records, Cass Elliot was talking to Mick Jagger when John approached them and made an insulting remark about her in front of the guests. Humiliated, she stormed out of the party and quit the group. Cass was contractually bound for the band's next LP, however, and therefore appeared on The Papas & the Mamas, which contained the single "Dream a Little Dream of Me." After the success of "Dream a Little Dream of Me", Elliot wanted to embark on a solo career. The band then made their final TV appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in the summer of 1968, where they said they would be taking a long vacation. Shortly afterward, they officially announced a split. In reviewing their contracts, their record company held that the band owed them one more album and threatened to sue each member for $250,000 for breach of contract. The band regrouped and released their final album, People Like Us, in 1971. With the album's failure, the band officially split, and each member embarked on a solo career.
Michelle Phillips went on to a successful acting career, appearing in the 1973 movie Dillinger and in the 1980 The Man With Bogart's Face. She also had a successful run in television drama, including "Knots Landing" and "Beverly Hills 90210." Michelle is the last surviving original member of The Mamas and The Papas; as the copyright owner of the song "California Dreamin'," she was a major contributor to the 2005 PBS Television Special "California Dreamin': The Songs of The Mamas and the Papas."
Cass Elliot had a successful solo career after the band broke up, with hits such as "Make Your Own Kind of Music." She toured the U.S. and Europe, and had many appearances on American variety shows, such as the highly popular Carol Burnett Show. Elliot died of a heart attack (not by choking on a ham sandwich as legend has it) on July 24, 1974. She had just performed for two sold-out audiences at the London Palladium in the UK. The night before she died, she had called Michelle in L.A. to tell her how thrilled she was about getting standing ovations at The Palladium. Michelle Phillips says that Cass Elliot "died a very happy woman."
John Phillips continued to write songs for himself and others. Perhaps his best-known effort was as co-author of the Beach Boys' hit "Kokomo." In the 1980s, he formed The New Mamas and The Papas with his daughter Mackenzie Phillips, Spanky McFarlane (of the group Spanky and Our Gang) and Denny Doherty. After some initial success, Denny dropped out when John slipped back into drugs, and Mackenzie ran away. Throughout the rest of his life, Phillips toured with various versions of the group, playing smaller venues, reunion shows and TV specials. After surviving a liver transplant in the 1980s, he died of heart failure on March 18, 2001. His final album, Phillips 66, was released posthumously in August of 2001. John's version of The Mamas and The Papas story is told in the American PBS (Public Broadcasting System) TV special, "Straight Shooter: The True Story of John Phillips and The Mamas and the Papas."
Denny Doherty had a solo hit in 1974 with a rendition of the standard "You'll Never Know." In the 1990s, he was the producer and host of a popular children's TV show in Canada, "Theodore Tugboat"a kind of "Thomas the Tank Engine" for vessels in the Halifax Harbour. Denny Doherty died on January 19, 2007, at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, from kidney failure following surgery on an abdominal aneurysm. In response to "Straight Shooter: The True Story of John Phillips and The Mamas and the Papas," Denny produced his own stage musical Dream a Little Dream - The Nearly True Story of The Mamas and The Papas. It features music from the group and focuses on his relationship with Mama Cass. It was, he said, to "set the record straight."
Doherty "sets the record straight" beautifully in this surprisingly well written play that recounts the events of the lives of The Mamas and the Papas. Though the play runs a tad long, the time flies by as it effectively holds our interest. The detailed period costuming for the show by Connie Furr-Solomon is inspired, and certainly helps set the tone of the piece.
Fine directing and acting are married to produce some real character studies. Michael Sample is fascinating as John Phillips, who was a brilliant but troubled man. His odd laugh and line delivery makes the character memorable. Christine Hope is sweet and earthy as Michelle Phillips. Kyle Harris has a wonderful feel as Denny Doherty. He helps establish the camaraderie these friends shared, and their joy in the music and the time period. Steven Anthony as the narrative Doherty is solid, but at times detached.
A talented Alisa Schiff is just sensational as Cass Elliot. Through the eyes of writer Doherty, she is the driving, hopeful energy behind the group, and there is a tender fondness for her character expressed in both his writing and her acting.
The star of this show is the singing. Cheers to wonderfully sung, tight harmonies, and solid recreations of the sound of the Mamas and the Papas! One need not be a fan of the music of the '60s to become a fan of this fresh new show and all it has to offer.
Dream A Little Dream was first conceived as a one man show starring Denny Doherty and directed by Paul Ledoux. It premiered at White Point Resort in Nova Scotia on November 12, 1996, and Off-Broadway in 2003. This new large-cast, fully staged version of the show premiered at Phoenix Theatre in Arizona in 2007. The Florida Stage presents the second production of this fully realized piece.
Dream A Little Dream will be appearing at Florida Stage through August 31, 2008. The theater is located in Plaza del Mar, at 262 S. Ocean Blvd. in Manalapan. Florida Stage is a professional theater, with extensive programs for young artists, hiring Equity and non-Equity performers from across the United States. Florida Stage is a member of the Theatre Communications Group, the League of Resident Theatres, the Florida Professional Theatre Association, the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, and the National New Play Network.
Performance days/times are normally Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:00 pm; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 2:00 pm; and Sundays at 7:00 pm. Tickets and other information may be obtained by calling the box office at (561) 585-3433 or (800) 514-3833, or contacting them online at www.floridastage.org.
* Designates member of Actors' Equity Association: the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.
** Designates member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers.
+Designates member of the United Scenic Artists.
Photo: Ken Jacques Photography