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The progenies of Hair have not enjoyed a great track record. It is therefore all the more pleasant to report that the latest of that tribe, Rainbow, which opened last night at the Orpheum Theater, is a distinct success. It has the style, manner and energy of Hair, as well as its chaotic organization and its simplistic view of a far from simple world.
It has been written chiefly by James rado, who was one of the writers of hair. The music and lyrics are by Mr. Rado and for the book he has been assisted, but perhaps not enough, by his brother Ted Rado.
The musical is joyous and life-assertive. It is the first musical to derive from hair that really seems to have the confidence of a new creation about it, largely derived from James Rado's sweet and fresh music and lyrics.
Rainbow almost literally takes off where Hair ended. At the end of Hair, Claude, the drafted drop-out, is killed in Vietnam. In Rainbow, someone called simply Man has been killed in Vietnam, and comes over the other side into Rainbow land.
Rainbow land is the kind of place that perhaps only Judy garland could fully appreciate. It seems to be a radio station of sorts - fancy finding out that heaven was just that great big radio station in the sky - obsessed, but not too intently, with preparing commercials for such soap products as Oxydol. (Nights when I was unable to sleep I often wondered whatever happened to Oxydol - well, it appears it made good, and went on to higher things.)
There is a Mother, and a Father, and Jesus, and Buddha, a Stripper, a Wizard, a Girl, her Lesbian twin, a President and a First Lady. The whole thing is great fun until one horrid and unfortunate moment, the brothers Rado feel impelled to introduce a conscience-struck note of political significance.
The Man, accompanied by his Rainbow room of cronies, goes to Washington and there sees the President. "Why was I killed in Vietnam, Mr. President?" he asks plaintively. Mr. president, a good guy at heart, replies: "If it was my fault, forgive me." Yes, well. But such lapses apart - and there aren't many - Rainbow really swings and pulses.
perhaps the big surprise is provided by James Rado's music, which come out in a gush of melody. It is a brilliant score, full of the most astonishing variety. Some of it does sound like the great Galt MacDermot score for Hair, and the influence of MacDermot is strongly felt. But there is also country music, band music, showbiz pastiche, all manner of music, held into one homogenous score by its characteristic forcefulness. Yes, at times this pressure is a little unremitting, and the show has an almost unbelievable 42 numbers in it. Luckily the singing hardly ever stops.
Mr. Rado's lyrics have a bizarre zaniness. Apart from the occasional modish dirtiness, there is a Lewis Carroll madness here that is most appealing. They say crazy things, and evoke crazy images, but do so with a most bouncy zest.
The setting by James Tilton is simple but effective, consisting fundamentally of a spiral platform running around the stage. Busby Berkeley would have loved it and Fred Astaire would have tap danced down it. The staging is by yet another Hair alumnus, Joe Donovan.
Mr. Donovan has doubtless caught his sense of slightly organized frenzy from Tom O'Horgan, but his style of red-cheeked clowns and unlikely buffoons appears to derive more from John Vaccaro and his Playhouse of the Ridiculous. It works well to give the show the specific style it needs in the absence of a book.
The performances - and this is a team effort - are notably attractive. The show has something of the tribal quality of Hair, that odd mixture of charades and greasepaint, of backyard kids play-acting.
Gregory V. Karliss gave man a certain gusto, Camille (only one name as in Greta Garbo) belted attractively as the Mother, Bobby C. Furguson made a happily mysterious Wizard, Patricia Gaul a sprightly stripper, and the two pretty and fine singing Girls were Kay Cole and Janet Powell. All the singing was first-rate and the playing (musical supervision by Steven Margoshes) and the sound engineering (by Abe Jacob) were both superior.
What separates Rainbow from the other rock and plotless musicals that have recently been going bump in the night, is its stylistic cohesion and lack of pretensions. It is not only noisy and brash, it is also very likable.
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