Review - Trip of Love Off-Broadway

Is this psychedelic 1960s revue worth the trip?

The off-Broadway cast of Trip of Love
The off-Broadway cast of Trip of Love. Photo by Matthew Murphy

Every once in a while, a show comes to New York that seems such a preposterous undertaking that you can't help wondering, "Who the hell is paying for this?" The new Off-Broadway revue Trip of Love is one of those shows. There's an awful lot of money on display here, particularly in hiring big-name designers Robin Wagner for scenery and Gregg Barnes for costumes, but also in the actual scenery and costumes themselves, which are plentiful and elaborate.

The show is playing at Stage 42, formerly the Little Shubert, a venue well-known the theater community as a very expensive place to run a show, owing to union contracts. (The venue is rarely occupied, and even then usually by similar theatrical follies, and not in the Ziegfeld sense.) Plus, there's a large cast of 23 talented and/or attractive theater pros, including David ElderKelly FelthousLaurie Wells, and Austin Miller.

What's missing here is a rationale for why this show needed to exist. The entire affair is the brainchild of director/choreographer James Walski, a man whose stage credits include Cats, Starlight Express, and Saturday Night Fever. Not a very auspicious resume. The show apparently had a tryout run in Osaka, Japan, and the listed producers have mostly Japanese names. I point this out because these people apparently don't have a very firm grasp of what makes for successful commercial theater in America.

 

Trip of Love is essentially a revue of songs from the 1960s, and the song list cuts a very wide swath, indeed, from psychedelic rock ("White Rabbit") to antiwar anthems ("Where Have All the Flowers Gone?") to bland easy-listening hits ("Moon River"). The show fashions itself a sort of 1960s social and cultural history, and the results are frequently laughable.

The show is fine when it's merely trying to entertain. It's all very professional, at least in terms of stagecraft and performance. Walski is not untalented as a choreographer, and the cast is game and energetic. All those expensive sets and costumes are certainly pretty to look at, and the cast is abundant with eye candy, both of the male and female varieties.

However, along with the underlying lack of a raison d'etre, the show has quite a few risible miscalculations. In the first act alone, we have a topless woman writhing on a sort of circus wheel while one of the male cast members paints her body with day-glo paint and screams the song "Venus" as accompaniment. It was jaw-droppingly devoid of taste. 

After a series of hip sixties pop tunes, the act one closer features a treacly staging of "Moon River," of all things, including one cast member singing suspended on a swing, a would-be romantic couple on a bridge arching over a stream, and a dancing couple who appear to be acting out the lyric in interpretive dance. I was surprised not to find nurses in the lobby offering insulin shots. I have to say that the performers commit admirably to the silliness and banality they are forced to inhabit.

 

Ah, but things get portentous in act two, boys and girls, as Walski attempts to wring melodic and choreographic pathos in a series of numbers evoking the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. But Walski undermines the pathos with, among other things, a rather blatant attempt at gay titillation in the form of two rather buff male cast members stripping to their tighty whiteys as they change from civilian to army clothes. 

Sure, the show needed an arc to avoid becoming a random series of songs. But the end product here is both heavy-handed and superficial, and erases any of the enjoyment capital that the rest of the show may have built up.