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A CurtainUp Review
Dream A Little Dream

by Les Gutman
'If this is where we are now, where will we be five years from now?' I don't know Cass. But I do know that you have to live with the things you do. The only thing is - you're gone and I miss you.
---Denny Doherty

Denny Doherty
Denny Doherty
(Photo: Kenneth Kam)
Technically, the history of The Mamas and The Papas began in 1961 (when John met Michelle and Denny met Cass) and eclipsed a decade later (with a shotgun reconciliation that resulted in their final and only unnoteworthy record, People Like Us). But the group's most significant contributions to the time capsule of the Sixties -- the flower power era of sex, drugs and rock -- were made during barely more than a year. This was the period beginning in early 1966 when their first album, the chart-topping If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, was released, through early 1967, when their third album, The Mamas and The Papas Deliver hit the stores. The latter included what is perhaps the most masterful group autobiography ever recorded as a song, "Creeque Alley," and with it, you could stick a fork in them: they were done. Their next release, a compilation called Farewell to the First Golden Era, would signal a farewell to their last golden era as well. Although the song from which this show takes its title found its way onto their subsequent 1968 album, that effort was just a flicker in an all but extinguished flame.

A third of a century has passed since then, Mama Cass and Papa John are no longer with us, and it's time to reflect on the phenomenon which left a footprint far larger than its history might suggest. Papa Denny has now returned from the cold of his native Canada to the same Bleecker Street from which he and his band mates arose, having survived it all (the adverb "remarkably" being pretty much obligatory). In Dream a Little Dream, he chronicles the group's story punctuated, as is also essential, by song.

Mr. Doherty could be forgiven if his recollection is a bit hazy (we are reminded of Grace Slick's quip, "If you remember the Sixties, you weren't there"), but it doesn't show. (Denny warns: "Some of what I'm going to tell you tonight didn't happen - at least not in the nice, semi-coherent way that I'm going to tell it.") Most of the details are well known, however, and easily recalled with the little refresher course Denny provides. The songs quickly remind us why we care. He promises to tell all, and does, though the scandals, too, have been widely reported.

There is nonetheless a revelation of a secret. Behind The Mamas and The Papas, there was a fifth voice -- Doherty calls it an overtone -- "Harvey," that could only be heard when the other four sang together. Harvey precipitates a moment of utterly compelling theater as we see the birth of the group's signature sound. Doherty's exhilaration is palpable as he describes Cass singing along with John, Michelle and him while she ironed. That's when Harvey made his entrance. "It wasn't folk music anymore, man. At long last it was really and truly rock and roll!"

All of Doherty's stories are not quite so compelling, and at almost two and a half hours, some judicious editing would have been welcome. Director Randal Myler, who has made a career of late directing bio-musicals (links to his others can be found below), has a two-edged sword in Doherty. On the one hand, Papa Denny is the genuine article, half a lifetime older and far wiser but retaining strong stage appeal. He may not quite have the young tenor sound that was so hard to resist anymore, but he holds his own with the younger performers assembled, all quite good even if they can't combine to conjure up Harvey. On the other, he occasionally suffers from the autobiographer's greatest liability -- being unable to separate himself from the material sufficiently to distinguish between what makes for an effective story and what he feels must be told. Apparently, neither Mr. Myler nor Doherty's co-writer, Paul Ledoux, were able to wrestle the wheat free from the chaff either.

Myler employs much the same formula that he used in Love, Janis, the last tenant in this venue. Instead of letters, we have recollections, which Doherty serves up with just the right blend of self-reverence and self-irony. And Myler seems to sense that what we really want is to hear the songs, and they are delivered aplenty -- nineteen in all. The show, not surprisingly, is at its best when the songs we know so well seem to rise out of his storytelling. Doherty keeps his distance -- singing along rather than with the others.

On a stage largely filled with a band (which is very good), set designer Walt Spangler has provided little beyond a few stools on which Doherty sometimes perches, and some floor mikes at which his Mama and Papa surrogates sing. (They are known here as The Dream Band). The rest of the design is supplied by Jan Hartley's extensive projections and Brian Nason's lighting which varies, according to the mood, from stark to colorful, the latter well attuned to the glowing hues of the flower children and their hallucinogenic visions. (The Sixties motif extends into the audience, the house lights consisting of très sixties lanterns.) David Woolard's costumes for the band hit the mark. Surprisingly, the show's only design deficiency is in its sound, which sometimes muffles Mr. Doherty while leaving the other singers sounding tinny. Hopefully, this will shake itself out.

I don't know how Dream a Little Dream would sit with those who were stumbling up and down Bleecker forty years ago, but for everyone else it limns the period quite well, whether it's resurrecting nostalgia or creating it anew.

Love, Janis
Hank Williams: Lost Highway

Dream A Little Dream
by Denny Doherty and Paul Ledoux
Directed by Randal Myler
starring Mr. Doherty with Richard Burke, Angela Gaylor and Doris Mason
Set Design: Walt Spangler
Costume Design: David C. Woolard
Lighting Design: Brian Nason
Sound Design: Louis J. Corrubia, Jr.
Projection Design: Jan Hartley
Musical Director: Ed Alstrom
Band: John Benthal, Jon Albrink, John Doherty as well as Mr. Alstrom and Mr. Burke
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes with 1 intermission
Village Theater, 158 Bleecker Street (Sullivan/Thompson)
Telephone: (212) 307-4100
MON, WED - SAT @8, SAT @2:30, SUN @3; $45-100
Opening April 23, 2003, open run
Reviewed by Les Gutman based on 4/17/03 performance
Last performance: 8/31/03
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • "Dedicated to the One I Love"
  • "The Man Who Wouldn't Sing Along With Mitch"
  • "Wild Women"
  • "500 Miles"
  • "Everybody's Been Talkin'"
  • "Twist and Shout"
  • "Chanson, Chanson, Chanson"
  • "12:30"
  • "Go Where You Want to Go"
  • "California Dreamin'"
Act Two
  • "Got a Feelin'"
  • "Theme From Peyton Place"
  • "I Saw Her Again"
  • "In Crowd"
  • "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)"
  • "Monday Monday"
  • "It Can Only Happen in America"
  • "Dream a Little Dream of Me"
  • "Creeque Alley"

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