The house was full of baby boomers Sunday afternoon as Phoenix Theatre presented an updated version of the work they debuted in 2007 — a “nearly true story of the Mamas & Papas” dubbed “Dream a Little Dream.” It explores the intertwined and sometimes twisted personal and professional lives of four musicians — John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty and Mama Cass. It’s directed and choreographed by Michael Barnard.
The work originated as a monologue performance by Doherty, first performed in Nova Scotia during 1996. It was directed by Paul Ledoux, who now shares the bookwriting credit with Doherty. Seeing Doherty’s take made me long for a version akin to the movie “Vantage Point” — which considers events from the perspectives of several folks close to the scene of a crime.
The Phoenix Theatre cast includes two actors from their previous production of “Dream a Little Dream” — Alisa Schiff-Warner (Mama Cass) and Michael Sample (John Phillips). Evan Siegel (Denny Doherty) and Tori Anderson (Michelle Phillips) are new to Phoenix Theatre. All four are members of Actor’s Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the U.S.
Behind all the groovy tunes (and sometimes within them), there was plenty of “Sturm und Drang.” Sexual liaisons. Drug use. Lousy choices in matters big and small. It made me think the show should be required viewing for high schoolers who assume too often that all those hippie years were laced with magic rather than mayhem. The show’s final scenes are especially bittersweet, and touching even to those who already know how the story ends.
“Dream a Little Dream” features dozens of songs, so fans of The Mamas & The Papas get a good fix. My personal favorites during the show included “500 Miles” and “Monday, Monday.” Also “San Francisco,” sung by Sam Sherwood (Scott McKenzie) in front of vintage footage from the “City on the Bay” and “Dream a Little Dream” featuring soulful, bluesy vocals by Kimball.
Much of the show’s humor stems from vignettes with fellow famous folk like John Lennon (Sam Sherwood) and Ed Sullivan (Beau Heckman). Its greatest visual appeal is lighting (Mike Eddy) with a psychedelic vibe and costumes (Connie Furr-Soloman) equally lush in pattern and color. Dark set elements apparently painted to make a glow in the dark effect possible were a bit off-putting.
I’d have preferred a cleaner palette for the show’s other design elements — and wish the live band’s sound hadn’t been somewhat muted by its placement behind the show’s backdrop. Still, it’s a fun bit of musical theater meets memory lane. Haul out your go-go boots and all things fringe. Then take a spin back in time, grateful if you’re old enough to have both lived through and survived the ’60s.
Note: Phoenix Theatre performs “Dream a Little Dream” through May 27 — click here for show and ticket information. Click here to read more about the life and times of The Mamas & The Papas in a Vanity Fair piece titled “California Dreamgirl” by Sheila Weller .
Coming up: Mark Lewis talks Beatles tribute “RAIN”