There are many kinds of failure in the theatre, some of them so attractive that at first glance they threaten to be mistaken for success. Dude, a musical bearing the subtitle "The Highway Life" , is not of this order; it fails in an open and particularly irritating way, being almost as meager in its talents as it is grandiose in its ambitions. The only attractive thing about it is the setting, which transforms the conventional interior of the Broadway Theater into an indoor-outdoor circus-cum-forest, with ropes, nets, movable platforms, and pathways running up hill and down dale, through what were once boxes and the bleakness of backstage. (From time to time, actors lope strenuously round these pathways, advancing with witless circularity over the highway life.) Aside from a couple of pros in the persons of William Redfield and Rae Allen, who give the impression of doing their best to accommodate themselves to an army of hooligans hamming it up at some rank Hackensack Amateur Night, the large cast is inept and mysteriously self-confident. It speaks and sings the mind-numbingly maladroit words of the book and lyrics as if they were Keatsian in style and Kantian in content. Peremptorily, they require of us in the audience that we dig it, man - an injunction that repels me quite as much as if Christopher Robin were to demand that I go skipping down to Buckingham Palace with him and Alice. Most of the cast is very young, and perhaps I should find it in my heart to be more forgiving of the self-satisfaction with which they mouth inanities that, so their tone indicates, they believe to be profundities. the musical is full of shallow generalizations about love and goodness and God and friendship and nature - in short, about everything-nothing, which is surely the least fruitful subject on earth. I would rather that somebody read aloud to me the fine print on a candy wrapper. The book and lyrics of Dude are by Gerome Ragni, the music is by Galt MacDermot, and the direction is by Tom O'Horgan. This is the trio that invented Hair, and they have come a long way since then, every inch of it apparently in the wrong direction.
Copyright 1972 The New Yorker.