By Brian Scott Lipton
The rather ramshackle new jukebox musical, “Red Roses, Green Gold,” now at the Minetta Lane Theatre, inadvertently poses a rather thorny question: Who is this show really going to appeal to?
Yes, it’s raison d’etre is to present the music of the legendary folk-rock group The Grateful Dead – including such beloved songs as “Truckin’” and “Ripple” – but I suspect the band’s faithful fans (aka Deadheads) won’t be fully satisfied by the musical’s shorter-than-usual versions of these classics. Moreover, there isn’t a true comparison between the sound of the eight really talented and appealing actor-musicians on stage and the actual members of The Dead (some of whom still perform regularly as part of such hot-ticket groups as Dead and Company and Phil Lesh and Friends).
If you aren’t already a fan of the band’s music, you might well be pleased by its tunefulness, but you’ll also have a fair amount of trouble deciphering the lyrics (thanks to a muddy sound system), which also makes it doubly hard to understand how they fit into the silly plot concocted by bookwriter Michael Norman Mann. I doubt Mann was aiming for the brass ring here, but the result is slightly leaden and tin-eared.
The story is set in a 1920’s saloon/mining hotel called the Palace (nicely designed by Robert Andrew Kovach), which is on the verge of the foreclosure. It’s run by amiable con man Jackson Jones (Broadway veteran Scott Wakefield, a most welcome presence) and his longtime girlfriend Glendine (Maggie Hollenbeck, a tall pretty blonde who turns out to have vocal pipes reminiscent of Linda Rondstadt), who refuses to marry Jack even after two decades.
Also on hand are Jones’ resentful, mischievous son Mick (Michael Viruet, who possesses both a strong voice and the torso of a gay porn star), whip-smart tomboyish daughter Melinda (Nathalie Storrs, who could blow the roof of any building); smooth-dressing lawyer Liam (David Park); Mick’s sassy girlfriend Bertha Marie (an amusing Debbie Christine Strong); and a pair of Mutt-and-Jeff-like brothers, the “devilish” Jessup McElroy (an oily Michael McCoy Reilly) and the doofusy Dudley (Brian Russell Carey in the show’s funniest performance), both of whom want to own the Palace (formerly owned by their dad). For reasons I won’t explain, who gets the deed to the Palace comes down to who can win it in a poker game.
One of the biggest conundrums of the show is that it often can’t decide whether it just wants to be a cover band concert or an actual musical, a problem Rachel Klein’s rather uninspired direction does little to solve. And since both Mann’s story and the characterizations possess the depth of a mid-level country song, it rarely seems to matter that, for example, an Independence Day party arrives out of nowhere at the end of the first act just so we can get a rendition of “U.S. Blues.” Even the group’s best-known song “Touch of Grey,” which essentially concludes the show, feels rather shoehorned in at the end.
By the way, what actually defines the end of “Red Roses, Green Gold” may vary night to night. The script lists four encores, although the only one performed on my press night was the great “Casey Jones.” And yes, in many ways, this signature jam (complete with an audience singalong) was indeed the “high point” of this show.
In short, you might have a perfectly good time at “Red Roses, Green Gold,” even if it’s less a diamond in the rough and more fool’s gold.
Photos: Chad Batka
Red Roses, Green Gold is at the Minetta Lane Theatre (18 Minetta Lane) new block of tickets thru March 18, 2018 Call 800-745-3000 for tickets.