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‘Summer ’69’ Play Salutes Woodstock

August 23, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Even the most peripheral rock fan can come out humming the tunes in ``Summer ’69,″ the new off-Broadway musical celebrating Woodstock, the granddaddy of all rock festivals, and the times that helped create it.

In this engaging show at the Douglas Fairbanks Theater, the seven actors effectively use quick costume changes to jump from one generation to another. One example: When a girl lies to her father that she’ll be going to church camp for the weekend, the father is played by Ron McClary; later, he will don a headband and portray a teen musician.

Sometimes the adult characters are more entertaining than the kids, as they blame Dr. Spock for youthful rebellion, ruminate on the Depression and World War II, become Max Yasgur welcoming everybody to his farm or become a cheery lady organizing sanitation.

En route to Woodstock in Act 1 and at the concert in Act 2, everyone is smoking, sniffing or swallowing dope. ``I didn’t know where I was but I knew where I was headed,″ one woozy fellow proclaims. None of the deaths or injuries that occurred at the real-life Woodstock are portrayed in this upbeat show, though one scene includes a twitching ``weird trip″ and another has a person complaining he received a tattoo while high.

The vignettes which make up the storyline exist mainly to support the songs. The numbers start with ``Woodstock,″ which Joni Mitchell wrote after the August festival of peace, love and music. There’s John Sebastian’s ``Summer in the City,″ Janis Joplin’s wonderful ``Mercedes Benz″ and Santana’s strong ``Black Magic Woman.″

Civil rights leaders’ pictures are projected while the actors sing Bob Dylan’s ``The Times They Are A’Changing,″ with the import of a Woody Guthrie proclamation. Vietnam protest gets its due with Country Joe and the Fish’s ``I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ To Die Rag.″ Stephen Stills’ thoughtful ``Find the Cost of Freedom″ ends the first act.

Act 2′s 1969 musical hits include Grace Slick’s dope song, ``White Rabbit,″ her husband Darby Slick’s ``Somebody To Love,″ with psychedelic colors moving on a screen, and Joplin’s ``Piece of My Heart″ all sung by E. Alyssa Claar. The entire ensemble sings the Beatles’ ``With a Little Help from My Friends,″ the Band’s ``The Weight,″ Pete Seeger’s ``Turn, Turn, Turn″ and the finale, Sly and the Family Stone’s ``Dance to the Music.″

Besides McClary, the ebullient cast is made up of Jamie Hurley, Brian Maillard, Kirk McGee, Anne Moore, Rik Sansone and Christine M. Williamson. A five-piece band backs them and singers Claar and Rachel Stern.

Bill Van Horn, Ellen Michelmore and Leer Paul Leary, none of whom went to Woodstock, wrote the book. Bruce Lumpkin directed.

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