Sex, Drugs, Rock ‘n’ Roll!
Denny Doherty, one of the “Papas” in The Mamas and The Papas, wrote the musical “Dream a Little Dream ~ The nearly true story of The Mamas and The Papas”. Well, folks, if this is “nearly” true, I don’t think I want to see the complete truth, because this version is pretty raw. There’s a lot of alcohol and drug abuse, free love and broken hearts.
As well as showing us the seedy side of stardom, this is an historical show, documenting the shift in popularity from folk music to rock. The audience is taken through turbulent times – the hippie era, Viet Nam protests, segregation and the death of JFK. But equally important, Dream a Little Dream is a musical, with the amazing songs of The Mamas and the Papas and others, taking the audience back to the years between 1963 and Cass Elliot’s untimely death in 1974.
Now on stage at London’s Grand Theatre, this production of Dream a Little Dream is excellent. The very talented eight cast members perfectly re-create the peace and love era of America’s burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll scene.
The show encompasses the back story, including Cass Elliot’s start as a café house singer, dabbling in jazz. Canadian folk singers Denny Doherty and Zal Yanovsky teamed up with John Sebastian and Cass to form the Mugwumps – a band that couldn’t decide if it was folk or rock. At the same time John Phillips and Scott Mackenzie had a folk group called The Journeymen. John Phillips was in love with aspiring model Michelle Gilliam. He tried to form a group with Denny and Michelle, and after rejecting Cass several times, he finally relented and let her into the band, which eventually evolved into The Mamas and The Papas. But it wasn’t easy – there were constant personality clashes and the sex, drugs and booze probably didn’t help. But inside the conflict is a touching story of unrequited love: Cass loves Denny, Denny loves Michelle, Michelle loves John, and John loves only himself.
Lili Connor owns the show as Cass Elliot. Her powerhouse voice matches that of Mama Cass, from the husky jazz singing to the soaring notes of Dream a Little Dream. Connor also demonstrates Cass’s tough attitude: in reference to John Phillips, she says she doesn’t need “condescending crap from Ichabod Ego”. Later, when John wants to call the group The Papas and The Mamas, Connor gets applause for pouncing on him with “Ladies first, asshole”.
Robert Markus is perfect as Denny Doherty. He has the strong tenor voice and Doherty’s mannerisms down pat. Markus shows his platonic love for Cass and his attraction to Michelle; in both cases the audience feels the chemistry.
Isaac Bell and Katie Ryerson are very good as John and Michelle Phillips, but since this is Denny Doherty’s version of the story, they take a back seat to Denny and Cass. The two play that role well, supporting and singing back up. Bell demonstrates Phillips’ arrogance and Ryerson shows off Michelle’s free spirit.
Chelsey Duplak is very busy, easily handling several female roles and personas, including Jill who joins the group when Michelle is fired. Alex Baerg plays numerous male roles and excels as Scott Mackenzie singing his hit song San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in your Hair). Geoffrey Tyler and Greg Gale also play various roles. Tyler shines as Doherty’s funny Canadian friend Zal Yanovsky and Gale is perfect as record producer Lou Adler. The four actors with multiple roles adapt well to each character, making it seem like there are many more in the cast.
There are numerous “tribute” shows making the rounds, where singers are just replicating the songs of the past and making the audience nostalgic for the sixties. Dream a Little Dream is much more than a tribute show. While this very talented cast beautifully duplicates the special sound of The Mamas and The Papas, they are also gifted actors giving us the tension, chemistry and yes, the love, that made up the tumultuous few years of this superstar group. If you want to hear hits such as “California Dreamin”, “Monday, Monday”, “Dancing in the Street”, “Words of Love”, “I Saw Her Again”, and the title song “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”, and also be moved by a poignant story, then don’t miss this musical.
Dream a Little Dream continues at the Grand Theatre, London until April 11. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593 or visit www.grandtheatre.com.
Photo: Isaac Bell as John Phillips, Robert Markus as Denny Doherty, Lili Connor as Mama Cass and Katie Ryerson as Michelle Phillips.
Dream and Little Dream ~ The nearly true story of The Mamas and The Papas
By Denny Doherty and Paul Ledoux
Directed by Lezlie Wade
Musical Direction by Marek Norman
Performed by Alexander Baerg, Isaac Bell, Lili Connor, Chelsey Duplak, Greg Gale, Robert Markus, Katie Ryerson, Geoffrey Tyler.
Grand Theatre, London
March 17 to April 11, 2015
Reviewed by Mary Alderson