BWW Interview: James Walski's '60s TRIP OF LOVE

You gotta love the '60s.

A time when baby boomers' anthems included "Blowin' in the Wind," "Windmills of Your Mind" and the druggy "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." Someone was bound to mount a musical, and James Walski, director/choreographer stepped up. Voila. Trip of Love, a jukebox musical, pays homage to dozens of '60s hit songs you remember--and some you'd like to forget.

TRIP OF LOVE didn't open in New York. It debuted in Osaka, Japan, in 2008, with Japanese performers, a massive psychedelic set and complicated '60s-themed props--think gigantic lava lamps and a cartoonish magic mushroom. It was a hit, Walski said, and he had the set shipped. Unfortunately, the timing couldn't have been worse. All the scenery was lost during Hurricane Sandy. "It was totally destroyed," Walski said. "Fortunately, our costumes survived."

Walski's early love of big, splashy musicals led to this singular creation. "I was a big fan of shows like SOPHISTICATED LADIES and SUGAR BABIES and wanted to create something along those lines."

Walski sought guidance from focus groups after narrowing down an enormous playlist. "I had more than 300 songs on index cards taped to a wall and I listened to every one," Walski said. "We had Vietnam veterans, housewives and baby boomers in the groups." The adrenalin-rush show features lithe and muscular performers who bounce to folk, acid rock, Motown, British invasion and movie themes. Groovy scenery includes walls that reflect black light. Dresses are minis, jeans are belled and fringed frocks are the currency.

TRIP OF LOVE tweaks the Alice in Wonderland stories--Caroline (Kelly Felthous) partakes of a mushroom morsel and the rest is a dreamy fantasy with, well, you get the picture. There's a scintilla of plot. Jennifer (Dionne Figgins) hopes to become a television star. "Her story is that she has maybe left Watts and went to Hollywood to get on a dance show," Walski said. "Each segment celebrates something in that decade. Civil rights, girl groups, the political movement, the Vietnam War. I was very little during this time, but it had such an innocence and purity to it. Then the world changed-assassinations, social activism, the women's movement. Parts of the world were broken and to me this pays tribute to an important decade."

Walski, a trained ballet dancer, auditioned for a Broadway show on a whim. "I didn't even know what Actor's Equity or 'swing' meant," He said. Walski worked with choreographic legends, including Agnes de Mille, Bob Fosse and Michael Kidd. De Mille inspired him to choreograph. By the time he auditioned for ON YOUR TOES, "I knew what a swing was."

THE Trip of Love show transcends cultural barriers, Walski said. "The show is like BLUE MAN GROUP, THE LION KING, MAMA MIA and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA-people don't have to know the language." Two lava lights, about 20 feet tall, decorate the stage. There's also a motorbike.

The show has had unintended drama. "We had an issue with the Vespa," he said. "Something broke on the throttle and the actor toppled over into the orchestra pit." Fortunately, no one was injured. "The audience was amazing from that moment on. Whenever he walked onstage they applauded."

Audiences looking for a serious night at the theater should look elsewhere, Walski said.

"We're not doing Shakespeare," he said, "you just go to have a great time."

Trip of Love is at Stage 42, 422 West 42nd Street.

Photo Credit: Linda Lenzi

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