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Red Roses, Green Gold theater review

October 17th, 2017 · 13 Comments · Grateful Dead, Movies, New York City

New Hunter-Garcia Musical comes up Roses

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Hear ye!  Hear ye!  Behold — a re-imagining of the Hunter-Garcia songbook.  New life.  New arrangements.  New band.  New set.  New stage.  New story.

If you’d like a fresh way to approach Grateful Dead music — go to this show.

If you like the Dead and theater — go to this show.

If you like the Dead and musicals — go to this show.

If you’re not sure — go to this show.

Just as the Grateful Dead broke pretty much every rule there was in showbiz — their music and this production turns a New York theater show into a dancing concert.  However long you’ve been going to the theater, you’ll be breaking the rules you’ve learned to live by.  This isn’t hushed-in-your-seat passive theater going.  This is a collaboration between band & audience, just like Grateful Dead shows were since their birth at the Acid Tests.  You’re encouraged from the opening to sing along and get up and dance.  Which, once one person breaks the ice, a Dead show breaks out.  🙂 

By my count there were at least 17 classic Dead songs used to tell the tale of a kooky crazy saloon set sometime in the nebulous Old West.  There’s a narrator — Jack Jones, the Doodah Man — who’s kinda like the Stage Manager in Our Town helping guide the audience through the Twelfth Night-like comedy of interconnected couples and conflicted love and bad intentions and double crossings — but really it’s all just a vehicle to reinvent Robert Hunter’s rich storytelling lyrics in a playful, funny, high-energy dramatization.

Original Merry Prankster George Walker and myself (and others) caught the third-ever staging of this (outside of rehearsals) and were lucky enough to talk to pretty much everyone involved from techies to the producer, from Jeff Chimenti the musical director to the on-stage stars, and there’s very much a feeling of the Grateful Dead themselves in their earliest days.  The clay is still wet, the canvas not fully painted, and the arrangements still in organic growing glowing flux.

This is eight relatively unknown musician/actors who are sculpting something new out of something established and familiar.  All of them are good, but Scott Wakefield is the father-figure both in the show, and probably off, and has a mid-career Rip Torn vibe with under-the-surface dangerous energy goin’ on.  Debbie Christine Tjong as Bertha is a firecracker with a little of Shaky Willie’s Shrew and Kathy Griffin’s petite explosions.  The mother–daughter characters played by Natalie Storrs and Maggie Hollinbeck do a touching show-stopping duet on Brokedown Palace.  And Brian Russell Carey as the clueless comedic foil Dudley has the audience laughing out loud just about every time he opens his mouth.  But the breakout to these eyes was Michael Viruet in the central character of Mick Jones — not unlike Berger in Hair, the bad guy / good guy, the Neal Cassady of this sidways adventure.

The choreography is positively playfully Twyla Tharp.  And the set and prop design is someplace between M.C. Escher and Dr. Seuss, with a cameo by Bart Simpson on skateboard.

And the seconding of musicians is second to none.  I don’t think one of them played less than five instruments all night.  Besides the eight voices, a partial list I noticed included — a violin, acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, accordion, ukulele, upright bass, drums, upright saloon piano, electric guitar, electric bass, conga, cajon box, tambourine, chimes, cowbell, shakers, and a cello!

Besides all the full songs, there were a bunch of Deadly instrumental mood-setters sprinkled throughout, and no two were ever played by the same lineup.  And if that ain’t turn-on-a-dime unexpected Grateful Dead, I don’t know what is.

The old-timey instrumentation reminded me of Phil Lesh’s recent collaboration with the String Cheese Incident — the original jugband / bluegrass music that Garcia & Hunter were born out of.  Authentic.  Timeless.  Americana.

The costumes (especially the skeleton suit and Garcia’s American flag top hat detail) and broad staging is top-notch New York theater, but performed in a little one-block alleyway playhouse down in the Village, infused with that neighborhood’s spirit and grassroots organic non-uptown mindset.  When I lived around the corner in the ’80s, I second-acted Balm In Gilead there about 15 times just to experience Laurie Metcalf’s 14 minute monologue.  It’s as cool an Off-Broadway experience as you’re gonna have, on an ancient New York lane and street (both called Minetta) you might not even know exists, which also includes Serpico’s apartment from the movie.

Gratefully, this is not Cats or The Lion King — but more a Prankster Production — except with money and rehearsals and pros behind it.

What it is, is Fun.

Occasionally there’s a smidge too much exposition of a too convoluted plot that’s ultimately unimportant — cuz it’s the exuberant freshly-delivered songs and their productions and the joyous Spirit of the whole thing that you’re gonna take away from it.

Do it with friends.  Make a night of it in the Village.  And get the special dancing seats if you’re so inclined, wink wink.

Other than extreme purists who can’t listen to this music without Jerry, I can’t imagine a Deadhead walking out of this theater without a beaming Cheshire grin on their face.  Cuz that’s all I saw all night.

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Bumping into some of the cast on the streets of Village
after they finished at the Minetta and
we finished our Jack & Neal show at The Bitter End.

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“Red Roses, Green Gold” — at The Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane, New York City.

Previews — Oct. 11th – 28th.

Official Opening — Oct. 29th and running through Dec. 17th at this point, but it will probably get extended once the word gets out.

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Here’s some info on the George & Brian “Jack & Neal Ride Again tour and shows.

Or here’s my latest book — “How The Beats Begat The Pranksters

Or here’s my prior book on all things Jack, Beat, Pranksters & Dead — “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac

Or here’s a bunch of other Grateful Dead related stories.

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by Brian Hassett  —  karmacoupon@gmail.com   —  BrianHassett.com

Or here’s my Facebook account if you wanna follow things there —

https://www.facebook.com/Brian.Hassett.Canada

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13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 George Walker // Oct 17, 2017 at 9:35 AM

    Simply a gas!

  • 2 David Thomas // Oct 17, 2017 at 11:46 AM

    Saw it last weekend, and you nailed it describing it, down to big grin on the way out!

  • 3 Dale Topham // Oct 17, 2017 at 1:01 PM

    They were equally lucky to have you guys there as the other way around! I didn’t know there was any territory to occupy between M.C. Escher and Dr. Seuss! How did you make this lucky find?

  • 4 Brian // Oct 17, 2017 at 2:21 PM

    Thanks! 🙂
    I just saw some mention of it someplace … and noticed the previews were starting when we were in New York, and got tix the day they went on sale.
    We all really loved it . . . it’ll be interesting to see what the theater “critics” say about it once it officially opens.

  • 5 Dale Topham // Oct 17, 2017 at 4:05 PM

    Hope the critics read your review first. It will be a “table thumpin’ smash!”

  • 6 Bob Bartell // Oct 18, 2017 at 9:33 AM

    Excellent write-up… thanks for answering my curiosity regarding this theater event. Sounds like this is going to warrant a day trip.

  • 7 Billy Savitsky // Oct 18, 2017 at 12:11 PM

    Thanks for the great review Brian…it sounds like a great show.

  • 8 Sue Fitzgerald // Oct 19, 2017 at 10:48 AM

    Great show good story line talented musicians great fun.

  • 9 Anthony Pelaia // Oct 20, 2017 at 10:57 PM

    Going tomorrow night!!!!

  • 10 Larry Matthews // Oct 21, 2017 at 9:17 AM

    Thanks for the review Brian. Going to see this show next Friday after Springsteen on Thurs.

  • 11 George Jenkin // Oct 21, 2017 at 6:51 PM

    I’m going to see it tomorrow.

  • 12 Brian O'Shea // Oct 22, 2017 at 5:32 AM

    Great review Brian! I may be able to see it on Wednesday… would love to catch it before Keystone.
    Looking forward to meeting you and so many others this upcoming weekend!

  • 13 Ben Beeler // Oct 22, 2017 at 9:31 AM

    That’s pretty freakin’ cool. I did not know about that.

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