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THEATRICAL THROWBACK THURSDAY: OH! CALCUTTA! Brings Sex, Smut & Psychedelia To Broadway

Today we are turning back the clocks to 1969 and the opening of one of Broadway's biggest hits, OH! CALCUTTA!

Taking Off The Robe

Sex sells. No other musical of the 1960s capitalized on the increasingly culturally and socially loosening times than the musical OH! CALCUTTA! Originally devised by British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan as an evening exploring various proclivities and of-the-moment topics, OH! CALCUTTA! is notable not only for its eventual decade-long revival run but also because of the impossibly accomplished group of creative artists assembled to devise the various songs and sketches making up the production itself. Directed by Bob Dylan's famed songwriter partner Jacques Levy, the evening contained material penned by Beatles frontman John Lennon and Nobel Prize winner Samuel Beckett in addition to literary and theatrical notables such as Jules Feiffer, Leonard Melfi, Edna O'Brien and Tynan himself. Of course, the most eye-grabbing and attention-getting element of the entire production when it originally opened this very week way back in 1969 was undoubtedly the lack of a certain customary feature amongst the actors: clothing.

Yes, indeed - the cast was stark naked for much of the performance. Not only that, but the smutty and scandalous scenes that played out in the comedically inclined endeavor often featured moments of graphic simulation and various poses of performers in flagrante delicto, outwardly and outlandishly mocking the conservative attitudes that had informed the decade and certainly the famously buttoned-up one prior. Without a question, it would be impossible to imagine a musical this risque arriving at any time in history on the Great White Way - or Off-Broadway for that matter - before 1969 and the dawning of the Age Of Aquarius, to cite another psychedic musical of the era. While the original production at the Eden Theatre eventually transferred to the Belasco Theatre on Broadway and clocked in a nearly 1500 performance run, it was the 1976 return that signaled the beginning of what would be one of the lengthiest showings in mainstage musical history - running all the way to 1989 and amassing an astounding near-6000 performance run. Similarly, the West End iteration enjoyed a 10-year run, lasting from 1970 until 1980. OH! CALCUTTA! may not have been too tasteful - or that good as a piece of drama or comedy, if we're being totally honest - but, oh, was OH! CALCUTTA! popular!

So, now, go back to 1971 and take a look at what all the buzz was about with OH! CALCUTTA! WARNING: ADULTS ONLY!

So, in your honest estimation would an OH! CALCUTTA revival work today? Surely the country cannot have become more conservative since 1969, yet with the plethora of family-friendly shows currently gracing the stage it seems most likely that that is precisely the case - at least on Broadway. Yet, who knows, some enterprising producer could give it a shot - after all, a revival must just take off.



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From This Author Pat Cerasaro

Pat Cerasaro contributes exclusive scholarly columns including InDepth InterViews, Sound Off, Theatrical Throwback Thursdays, Flash Friday and Flash Special as well as additional special features, (read more...)