Now playing at 7 Stages Theatre near Little Five Points is the musical . made its debut in 1967 and was the culmination of the hippie counter-cultural and sexual revolution and of the public backlash against the Vietnam War.
It was the cause of much controversy and debate due to its depiction of drugs, portrayal of sexuality, harsh language and its irreverence to the American flag. However, as risqué as the musical might have been back then, its controversy has not stood the test of time well, and the musical is now nothing but an upbeat and fun excuse to watch performers sing and dance.
There is plenty of energy amongst the cast. The music is still a superb score, and each cast member is a capable singer and their dancing is amusing, always following the same waving and thrusting movements reminiscent of horny hippie teenagers.
Performers aren’t afraid to get in contact with one another, often dry humping their partner in their dance sequence. Neither of the male leads are afraid to get close, as they will often embrace and hump each other in homoerotic fashion.
One particularly memorable scene is when the characters are supposed to get high and have an orgy, except one guy is left all alone… how sad. Apparently, even hippie tribes have their black sheep.
Although the music and dancing are well-done and entertaining, the way the story plays out made it at times difficult to follow and haphazard.
The central plot is about hippies rebelling against ‘the man’ and balancing their rebelliousness with conservative society and their impending conscriptions through song and dance. Performers lurch from one song to the next with nary rest or explanation. Fun at first, at times the musical sequences inevitably bog down in length and the audience is left to wonder when the plot will move forward.
The structure of is actually eerily similar to an episode of where a series of jokes and obscure cultural references are weakly held together by a thin story. instead has a series of musical sequences held together by a plot tenuous and at times difficult to care about.
Part of the problem of the plot is there is little development of the cast aside from the leads. Attempts are made to include the ancillary characters in the performance – they would get their own individual songs and they would sing about their dreams or their protests of racial prejudice, but aside from admiration on how highly falsetto the performers can sing, there isn’t much reason to care.
Threads started about the ancillary characters are never finished; even the parts of the militant blacks chafing under conscription to be sent to fight in a white man’s war are never fully developed. It seemed like the writers just plopped the bits about racial tension into the musical despite race being tangential to the main plot just because they both occurred in the same time period. Fully developed threads about the conflict black men may have felt regarding their conscription and comparisons with that conflict to the one felt by the main leads would have been a compelling story; unfortunately, the writers never did that, leaving the audience entertained with energetic songs but doing little else.
When debuted its central alluring aspect was its scandalous content. However, modern media has probably inured any effect the musical must have had when it first began.
Audiences are now used to scantily clad or even naked people prancing around on screen, disrespectful uses of the flag are tame comparison to massive flag burnings around the world, and despite modern censoring’s most valiant efforts, people are already accustomed to harsh language played out in front of them on their TVs.
won’t give you some riveting Shakespearean tragedy shaking your foundation to the boots, nor will its blunt language and sexuality shock you. It is however, still an entertaining show where you and your friends get to watch people have fun singing and dancing.