The years from 1967 to 1977 were the richest of the radio era. Abbey Road is the single greatest album ever recorded, and whatever's in second place is also by the Beatles. Leather pants will always be awesome. These are indisputable scientific facts, Gentle Reader, so I welcome your nods of agreement.
Now. Can we also agree Harlequin's summer jukebox extravaganzas aren't proper theater? No, we cannot. Last year I thought it; this year I don't. True, there's no spoken dialogue in Summer in the Sixties. There's no storyline, either, just one killer pop/rock smash after another, sung by truly standout voices. Yet it's fully and gracefully choreographed (by Nancy Rawson), and as if that weren't production value enough, God knows how long it took Jill Carter to edit hours of video to play above the band.
I did miss the gospel heart Antonía Darlene brought to last year's production. In her stead, we get the multitalented Christian Doyle and his bodaciously groovy top hat, so there's compensation. The rest of the cast is straight from Sixties Kicks, so if you liked that show, and you probably did, then this year's model will once again pummel you right in your sweet spot. It takes a while to reach escape velocity, but boy, grab your hat when it does.
Kate Dinsmore sings the hell out of "Bobby McGee," and her backup vocals on the numbers that follow are equally extraordinary. Mike Lengel's more comfortable this year than last, though I still believe he lacks the sex appeal required for the Doors. Who doesn't, you may fairly ask, to which I reply: Alison Monda blows the roof off Nina Simone's iconic version of "I Put a Spell on You." Holy cats, that girl can sing. Other vocalists belt from their diaphragms; I'm pretty sure Monda draws those throaty yowls of hers from two dimensions south of planet Earth. How she'll do it night after night for a month is beyond me. Matt Posner is also terrific, and he's charming enough to, well, marry Ms. Monda ... which he did. Mazel tov!
Of course, great vocals deserve equally gifted musicians. Last year's band was rock solid, especially Brad Schrandt and Bruce Whitney (Linda's brother-in-law) on keyboards. This year's ensemble might even be better. It includes Maria Joyner, who proves once again that chick drummers kick ass; Rick Jarvela, a mellow presence on bass; and the note-perfect Daven Tillinghast on electric guitar. What a get! Tillinghast plays in Oly bands and teaches at Music 6000. He's worth the price of admission alone, especially on that memorably blistering solo from "Black Magic Woman." Papi Carlos would smile.
There are moments when I find myself overcome by live performance in ways I know are mostly personal. This was one of those nights. I saw flaws here and there, but the show had me fully in its pocket by the fifth or sixth number. I'd already joined in a standing ovation. Then the curtain calls began: "Come gather ‘round, people, wherever you roam." I misted up. I couldn't help it. My dad is a huge Dylan fan, and it suddenly hit me how thrilled he'd be to hear these young singers reinhabiting the music of his youth. I looked around at hundreds of Boomers swaying in their seats and singing along. Of course, the times will always be changin'. That's one of those empirical facts we were talking about earlier. But in Harlequin's Summer in the Sixties, for two joyous hours plus three encores, they change back.
Summer in the Sixties
Through July 17, Thursday–Saturday, 8 p.m. Sunday 2 p.m., $37–$40
Harlequin Productions, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia