This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001



(photo by Chad Batka)

Red Roses, Green Gold features fun interpretations of Grateful Dead songs (photo by Chad Batka)

Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane between MacDougal St. & Sixth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 7, $57-$124

Deadheads are in for a musical treat with Red Roses, Green Gold, a reworking of Michael Norman Mann’s 1998 show, Cumberland Blues. The songs, primarily by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia from the classic Grateful Dead period of the early 1970s, are performed with care and flair by a fun troupe and arranged by Furthur and Dead & Co. veteran guitarist Jeff Chimenti. However, there’s no one at the wheel driving the train wreck of a story, no matter how tongue in cheek it might think it is. Running at the Minetta Lane Theatre through January 7, the musical is set in the 1920s at the Palace Saloon and Mining Company, a tumbledown spot won long ago in a card game by Jackson Jones (Scott Wakefield), who has failed to keep up with the bills and is now facing eviction. Evil drummer Jessup McElroy (Michael McCoy Reilly) and his dimwitted brother, Dudley (bassist and pianist Brian Russell Carey), want the Palace back, but Jackson is not about to let them take it away from him, although he has no legitimate master plan. Offering their support are Jackson’s girlfriend, Glendine (pianist and bassist Maggie Hollinbeck), who is afraid to say, “I love you”; his doomsayer of a daughter, Melinda (Natalie Storrs); Melinda’s childhood friend, Liam Alexander (David Park), now a lawyer; his gadabout son, the hirsute Mick (guitarist Michael Viruet), who seems to have escaped from a road version of Hair; and Bertha Marie (Debbie Christine Tjong), who Mick leaves at the altar. (Yes, there are plenty of inside references to Grateful Dead characters and situations.)

All of the actors sing and dance and/or play instruments well enough to satisfy the GD faithful, encouraging participation; there’s also an area where audience members can get up and boogie down. The silly script is just an excuse to present such songs as “Friend of the Devil,” “Truckin’,” “Ripple,” “Wheel,” and “Deal,” with director and choreographer Rachel Klein (More Than All the World) at her best when she cuts loose with “Bertha” or slows things down with beautiful renditions of “Box of Rain” by Park and Storrs and “Brokedown Palace” by Hollinbeck and Storrs. The wood-laden set by Robert Andrew Kovach is appropriate, featuring occasional projections by Brad Peterson that are often hard to make out. Most of the cast play it too far over the top, beginning with Wakefield’s slick and confident Jackson, who knows more than he’s telling. The script could use significant tightening, including getting the show down to about ninety minutes without a break instead of two hours and ten minutes with intermission and encore. Grateful Dead fans, a group that includes me, are a forgiving lot when it comes to the band meandering during a long, strange solo or riding off the tracks on certain tunes, but the theater crowd is not so merciful. But as Jerry famously sang, “Let there be songs / to fill the air.”

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