BWW Review: Robin Westle Brings The Sun to IN THE SUMMER OF '69 at Don't Tell Mama
I have not been able to stop talking about Robin Westle's show since seeing it on Sunday afternoon. I have shared my experience with almost every one of my friends, colleagues, students, neighbors, and local grocery store cashiers. That is how much I enjoyed myself at IN THE SUMMER OF '69. It is not every time that you darken the threshold of a cabaret club to hear the kind of music and stories that Robin Westle shares with her audience during this show, and, if I may be so bold, watching this show, I repeatedly thought to myself "This is my sh*t!"
Robin Westle is a bit of a surprise. She doesn't disguise her age, coming right out in the show and happily announcing she is now the owner of an MTA Senior citizen card. With that knowledge in the hopper, consider what it's like when a sweet-faced, bespectacled, diminutive lady with the most precious smile this side of your granny steps up onto the stage looking rather like your sixth-grade social studies teacher, but on that Saturday when you run into her at the mall because she is wearing her embroidered hippie blouse and has her hair down, rather than her classroom drag of sensible shoes and a topknot. With her delicate, bird-like features and benevolent demeanor, you might say hi to Mrs. Westle, but you would never, in a million years, imagine she would say to you "Sit down, honey, and let me tell you about the first time I smoked weed at summer camp, and about the naked hippies I saw when my girl scout troop went to Woodstock."
Yes. Robin Westle is a bit of a surprise.
To say the least.
In The Summer of '69 is all music from our youths. Well, maybe not all of us, but it's the music from my youth, and it certainly is the music from Robin Westle's youth, making this cabaret show DEFINITELY my sh*t! Love ya, Cole. Worship you, Steve. Adore you, Dorothy Fields.
BUT this dude totally set down his pad and pencil and leaned back in his chair at Don't Tell Mama when righteous Robin Westle, groovy musical director Tracy Stark, and boss bassist Owen Yost kicked off the day with "Here Comes The Sun" and let us all know it was time to turn off, tune in and get down. Dudes, I was def down.
For one hour (Thank you, director Eric Michael Gillett for keeping your eye on the clock) Ms. Westle rocked our worlds with her completely perfectly constructed show. Director Gillett makes sure that the show moves with a relaxed drive and economy without feeling false or rushed. Written with a total absence of superfluity, In the Summer of '69 flows with absolute purpose, almost like a drive down a country road, painting vibrant pictures with words and music - not just lyrics because Westle's prose contributes massively to the velvet painting spread out before her audience. The script to In The Summer of '69 reads like a memoir, a slice of life look back, with wistful joy, at the kind of memories we all have of our childhoods, be the year '69, '75, '84 or any other. The individual journey is the catalyst for the memories that will, for a little while, burn in our hearts as we go out into our current daily lives. I, myself, am a few years younger than Ms. Westle, and though I was alive in '69 when she was 15, I wasn't actually 15 until '79 - but watching her show, listening to her stories, brought back a flood of memories of my own Summer of '79. The teenage years are a universal experience, whatever the era, and it is a joy to listen to Robin's stories and allow them to refresh our own memories.
And the STORIES. Oh my gosh, the stories. They have to be heard to be believed, and Westle's honest talk, frank delivery, and bemused reaction to her own stories make for a most enjoyable journey, not to mention the marvelous musical choices, from Laura Nyro to Jackie DeShannon, from John Fogerty to Pete Seeger. You get a taste of Mama Cass, Joni Mitchell, and Sly and the Family Stone, and every song is introduced by perfectly orchestrated rhetoric (and speaking of orchestrations, Ms. Stark is on fire in this show, offering up harmonies of such sweet sounds as to double the joy in the room). Particularly special to this writer was Westle's interesting choice to sing three (THREE!) of my favorite songs, "Ev'rybody's Talkin" by Nillson, Grace Slick's "White Rabbit" and the best song of all time "I Shall Be Released" by (say it with me ) Dylan. Yeah, no mistake: this show is definitely my sh*t.
Now, here's the thing: Robin Westle does not have a rock and roll voice. She has a pretty voice, a pleasant voice, a well-trained voice. It is not, though, the voice you expect to sing damn "Come Together" and do you know what? It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you hear Robin Westle sing and think her voice is better suited to another genre of music because she is living inside this material and she is bringing right to your doorstep and dropping it off like a box of Thin Mints: delicious, refreshing and addictive. Get two boxes and put one in the freezer because once you see In The Summer of '69, you will want Robin Westle to do In the Summer of '70, In the Summer of '71, and In the Summer of '72. The stories, the show, the singer, all of it is simply sublimely superb.
And after you see it, you will tell your friends that In the Summer of '69 is your sh*t, too.
In The Summer of '69 has a performance on December 30th at 7 pm. For information an tickets go to the Don't Tell Mama https://Website
Follow Robin Westle on Instagram @r.westle and Twitter @RobinWestle and visit her Website
Photos by Stephen Mosher