Michael J. Willett and Melissa Mitchell
in Summer of Love
(© Alysa Brennan)
Michael J. Willett and Melissa Mitchell
in Summer of Love
(© Alysa Brennan)
Roger Bean's new jukebox musical, Summer of Love, now premiering at Musical Theatre West, covers the same time period as Hair, and while the show lacks the heft of that monumental musical, offering a much more pasteurized -- and extremely tuneful -- version of life in the late 1960s, it's undeniably fun.

Runaway bride Holly (Melissa Mitchell) has avoided her big day by crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, clad in her classy white wedding dress, and ends up wandering around San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury. She is taken in by a commune of flower children, and begins to explore her independence as she sheds the bourgeois box in which her family has locked her. However, the backdrop of the war, heavy drugs, and civil unrest of the period are only touched upon, while the smells of incense and the sound of the sitar are fully present.

Unlike so many musicals that shoehorn songs into characters' mouths without good reason, Summer Of Love feels fully integrated. Take Holly's rendition of "The Theme from Valley Of The Dolls," which speaks directly to her confusion, or Mama Cass' "Make Your Own Kind of Music" sung by the group's sage, Mama (Victoria Strong), while welcoming Holly to a life of freedom.

In addition, musical directors Michael Borth and Michel Paternostro crisply expand the melodies of such hot hits as Edwin Starr's "War" and Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," and Lee Martino's choreography takes the lackadaisical movements of the period and adds a thrilling mixture of precision and passion.

Michael Carnahan has built a playground of a set that lends context to the period, while costume designer Shon LeBlanc has fun using flea market wares, particularly a Bloody Mary-stained wedding dress that easily converts into a sassy mini.

Most importantly, there is not a weak link in Bean's cast, including Mitchell and Strong. Alyssa M. Simmons naughty rendition of "White Rabbit" is both haunting and titillating. Michael J Willett brings warmth and youthful sexuality to "Somebody To Love" and "San Francisco." Doug Carpenter brings charm into his numbers. Callie Carson, utilized for comic relief, brings a dizzy bliss to her line readings. Above all, jaws drop when Christine Horn opens her mouth; her powerhouse rendition of Joplin's "Piece Of My Heart" is electric as is her painful rendition of "Dream A Little Dream."