Sometimes throwing money at something will make it great. Take, for example, a theater set. Transfer a large enough wheelbarrow of cash to a talented set designer and whatever materials that set designer wants to buy and chances are that a magnificent set will come out.
That type of money is obvious in the split second of walking into Stage 42 for “Trip of Love.” The playbill cover that promises flower power and psychedelic colors is countered by a set with flowers, butterflies, blacklights, mopeds, a rising hot air balloon, Studio 54 style dancing tubes and countless other attractions that draw attention left, right and center all at once.
What all that money can’t do, however, is create a story out of a series of songs without a storyline.
There are no lines in the entire show, which is not an immediate disqualifier for success. It’s not required to have grown up in the 1960s to know the songs chosen. The song choices tell the same story that each successive generation since the 60s has been told about the decade of love. The songs, however, are disjointed in their arrangement.
It’s not immediately clear which storyline creator, director and choreographer James Walski wants to tell. On one side, a relatively conservative couple moves through song sets that show the transition from early love of the beginning of the decade to deployment in the Vietnam War. On another, more risqué side, a couple experiments with drugs, sex and conflict. And then there’s one more side, one in which a cool character in a Fonzie leather jacket is the guy every girl wants and every guy wants to be.
Don’t let a lack of storyline be confused with a lack of entertainment, however. The featured singers, which for some reason have been given character names, have more than capable voices. They also have extraordinary dancing chops. Unfortunately, the voices and the dancing are rarely paired, except with Dionne Figgins, who has some of the more impressive numbers.
Arguing that “Trip of Love” isn’t amusing or engaging would be like arguing that Las Vegas isn’t entertaining. The songs contrast and clash in extreme ways. At one point Tara Palsha and Joey Calveri are teaming up in a “Venus” rendition of splashing body paint and close dancing that would excite a de Blasio desnudas task force. The very next song Austin Miller serenades Kelly Felthous with “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” with a supporting cast that look as if showing too much calf would be scandalized. It’s a back and forth between acid and sunshine.
Dancing by far steals the show. “Trip of Love” is jam packed with complex choreography and exciting stunts. The amazing set emphasizes the complex choreography from water and surfing in “Wipe Out” to a mirror that turns the attention back on the dancers and the audience in “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.” The musical numbers also aren’t restricted to one style of dance. This only comes naturally, as some songs are made for ballet, some for salsa and some for stripping.
There’s no shortage of rock-solid abs or short-dressed booty shaking. But rather than detracting from the overall set, it fits. Potential audience members need to take a step back and ask if the point of a piece like this is to entertain or tell an accurate story of a complex decade. If it’s the former, then “Trip of Love” is successful, but if it’s the latter, there are some gaping holes that over simplify complex emotions and history.
TRIP OF LOVE will star Joey Calveri (Broadway’s Rock of Ages), David Elder (Broadway’s Curtains), Kelly Felthous (Flashdance, Nat’l Tour), Dione Figgins (Broadway’s Motown), Austin Miller (“Grease: You’re The One That I Want”), Tara Palsha (Vegas! The Show, Las Vegas), and Laurie Wells (Broadway’s Mamma Mia!), with Yesenia Ayala, Colin Bradbury, Bo Broadwell, Kyle Brown, Whitney Cooper, Alexa De Barr, Daniel Lynn Evans, Lisa Finegold, Ashley Blair Fitzgerald, Steve Geary, Daryl Getman, Jennifer Gruener, Brandon Leffler, Peter Nelson, Kristin Piro, and Nicky Venditti.
TRIP OF LOVE is directed and choreographed by James Walski (Saturday Night Fever, Starlight Express) and features scenic design by Tony Award winner Robin Wagner (The Producers, Dreamgirls), and costume design by Tony Award winner Gregg Barnes (Aladdin, Kinky Boots). TRIP OF LOVE is produced by Makoto Deguchi (Blue Man Group: Tubes), and had its world premiere in April of 2008 at the Theatre Brava! in Osaka, Japan.