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As you probably know, the Broadway Theatre has been practically turned inside out during the past few weeks to accommodate Dude (The Highway Life), a musical show that opened there last night. All things considered, wouldn't it have been simpler to rent an empty warehouse?
Dude is a boisterous, sprawling, unfocussed entertainment - a kind of half-baked allegory - bent on telling us in the broadest theatrical terms about growing pains, about life and love and the joy in simple pleasures. What it winds up as is an overblown recital of a few dozen songs, some of them pleasant, by Galt MacDermot (music) and Gerome Ragni (book and lyrics), two of the writers of Hair. Call this "Son of Hair" and too big for its britches.
The Broadway has been converted into an arena theater, the sets sloping down from mezzanine level to a matted round playing area, which is flanked by other seats and beyond which still more seats rise on the former stage. The band is spread out, brass and woodwinds on two levels at one side wall and strings far across against the other wall. There are also runways and lots of gear, including a block-and-tackle arrangement to transport players high into the air, even up through a hole in the ceiling itself.
This cluttered environment is dripping with microphones, many hanging over the scene like shiny tears, others hand-held with long cords trickling down the aisles and still others planted in aisle railings. In Tom O'Horgan's staging, the entire auditorium becomes a playground for the cast, whose voices boom, shriek and occasionally purr grandly from the many speakers.
Now there is no doubt that such gospel voices as those owned by Salome Bey, who is called Mother Earth, and Delores Hall, who is called Bread, are richly endowed instruments. And although Ralph Carter, who plays the young boy Dude, often gave me the odd impression of a kid imitating an adult, it must be admitted that he is a spirited little singer.
But throughout this wildly energetic but mostly lame evening I was more impressed than I probably should have been by the presence of two honest-to-goodness actors in the cast. They were William Redfield and Rae Allen, who played ham actors playing Adam and Eve, bickering parents of Dude and several other people I can't remember. They were very poorly treated by the inane dialogue and lyrics Ragni provided them with. But they acted out this poor stuff, finding in it a curious sort of conviction where there was none to begin with, and I felt both pained for them and full of admiration.
The mature Dude is played by Nat Morris, who gets to find a girl along the Highway of Life to writhe frustratedly on the floor, between his chattering, insensitive parents and to sing a couple of soul-type songs. Allan Nicholls plays a sort of guide named #33.
Randy Barcelo has designed many colorful, circusy costumes for the cast of men, women and children and O'Horgan himself has evidently attended to the lighting which seems, like the music, to come from everywhere.
Despite all the activity, Dude is a remarkably dull show
most of the time, gaining momentum only toward the end when a couple of
MacDermot's best tunes turn up. It struck me as being an extremely
pretentious and juvenile affair and certainly not worth all the fuss.
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