Sunday, April 16, 2006

Dream a Little Dream (Cleveland Play House)

‘Dream a Little Dream’ enjoyable, but not compelling at CPH

Question one: What group had the musical hits, “Monday, Monday,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “I Saw Her Again,” “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)?” Answer: If you are a 60s music fan or a rock and roll expert then you know it’s The Mamas and the Papas.

Question two: What quartet made up the group? Answer: John and Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty and the dynamic 300-pound Mama Cass Elliott.

Question three: What happened to Cass Elliott? Answer: After the group broke up because of relational infidelity, too much drugs and liquor and internal wrangling, she went on to a successful solo career. In spite of rumors that she choked to death while eating a sandwich in a London deli, Mama Cass, who had an undetected heart condition, suffered a fatal heart attack at age 30.

Question four: What is the name of the nearly-true musical based on the group and its members? Answer: The original title of the work, when it opened in Toronto in June 2001, was “CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’.” The present title of the production, which is now on stage at the Cleveland Play House, is “DREAM A LITTLE DREAM.’ Supposedly the name was changed because Michelle Phillips entitled her autobiography ‘CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’” and the musical’s producers didn’t want any confusion (or, it can be assumed, didn’t want a law suit).

Question five: Why was the musical written? According to Doherty, one of two surviving members of The Mamas and the Papas, the project began in the mid-1990s when he decided to try to answer the many questions he faced about the seamier side of the band. As he says, “Everybody knows the music and everybody's heard something about something odd going on in there, so I decided to write a play. The songs, the music, tell the story. I'm just filling in the spaces in between." It is mostly a collection of the band's songs connected by Doherty's storytelling. He has also thrown in a few tunes from the era like "The Man Who Wouldn't Sing Along With Mitch" and "Twist and Shout."

He wrote the piece with Canadian playwright Paul Ledoux. The CPH and former productions of the show have been staged by Randal Myler, who is noted for his direction of ‘LOVE JANIS’ and ‘HANK WILLIAMS: LOST HIGHWAY’,’ both of which had Cleveland Play House runs.

The Play House production, which is placed on a multi-level set with the band on stage and the performers entering and exiting during the two-act, two hour production, is more a review with verbal and visual transitions, than a play.

Doherty narrates and is backed up vocally by Lisa MacISAAC, Doris Mason and Graham Shaw. Only Doherty speaks. MacISSAC has a striking physical resemblance to Michelle Phillips. She lacks some of Phillips’ quirky musical sound, but those who don’t know the group won’t know the difference. Mason, who is a somewhat slighter version of Mama Cass, sings well, but just doesn’t have the power and dynamics of the legendary Cass. Shaw basically fades into the background as little actual attention is given to his vocals.

Doherty's words are often illustrated by photographs and hallucinogenic-inspired special effects that flash across a huge screen on the theatre’s back wall. After a while the effect became redundant with many of the pictures being repeated again and again.

The horrible acoustics of the Bolton Theatre make the drum’s beat predominant and the voices often get lost in the high ceiling and the fake seating areas along the walls. It can only be hoped that before the company does ‘MY FAIR LADY’ and ‘RABBIT HOLE” next season a decision is made to stage the performances in the Brooks or bring in a sound technician to redo the acoustics of the Bolton’s original architectural design.

The irony of The Mamas and the Papas was that the band created such harmony while in such personal upheaval. "We made that sound in spite of ourselves," Doherty says. “When we sang, everything else became secondary." And, in ‘DREAM A LITTLE DREAM’ the same thing happens. Only the singing is really important or meaningful. The spoken script is way too long and too redundant. It takes on the feel of a nightly soul-searching for Doherty. A chance to sort out the haze of the drugs, drink and sex and try and put his world in some kind of order.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you love the music of the 60s and are really fans of The Mamas and the Papas ‘DREAM A LITTLE DREAM’ is a should see. If you like the “inside gossip scoop” you’ll be turned on. For the rest of us, it was nice to hear the music, but the play didn’t do much to “turn me on.”