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High spirits and lively music can combine to produce a whale of a party, and, given the advantage of form, they can make for an entertaining evening of theater, too. But although Rainbow, which came to the Orpheum last night, is spirited and tuneful, it is also shapeless and, when all is said and done, mere child's play.
Rainbow is the work of james Rado, coauthor of the book and lyrics for Hair. It is a far brighter affair than Dude, that recent disaster concocted by Rado's hair collaborators, Gerome ragni and Galt MacDermot, but it suffers from the same confused notion that Hair, which appeared slipshod but possessed a freakish charm, could be reborn.
Rainbow is a kind of sequel to Hair. The book, such as it is, provided by Rado and his brother Ted, considers a soldier who has been killed in Vietnam and returns to a world of fantasy, ours, to find out why.
Through more than three dozen songs, interrupted by snippets of dialogue, we are belabored with mocking references to middle-class (and middle-aged) mores. Only in the second half, when the hero (Man) goes to Washington to confront a fictional President and first lady, does a welcome suggestion of political satire manifest itself.
But the opportunity is frittered away as we are once again pelted with the inane lyrics and, since there is no clear point of view, idiotic stage behavior we have suffered through during the first half. Only the President's number, "The World Is Round", and a Charleston duet for the first lady and Jesus (yes, he's being used again, this time as a demoralized object) have dramatic focus.
Elsewhere, there's a good deal of rousing singing - country-style, swing, rock, - and there is enthusiastic accompaniment by a pit band. Sometimes it is loud enough to hurt your ears, but rado (James that is) has a definite feel for stage music and good-timey sounds in particular.
As I have already said, though, that's not enough. And, indeed, the evening often sinks to abysmally juvenile levels both in the action of the "Radio Rainbeam Rainbow Roadshow", as this play-within-a-play is called; in the lyrics and dialogue ("I bumped into a blind woman; her eyes were out of sight."), and even, through less troublesomely, in the special sideshow effects.
The cast includes some expressive voices. I especially admired the cavernous contralto of a performer named Camille, who plays Mom, and the nicely-modulated soprano of marie Santell, a very pretty girl who plays the first lady. Most of the other performers are pleasant too.
The Orpheum stage is a severely cramped one and director Joe Donovan has moved a fairly large cast around with the ingenuity of the master of a day-care center obliged to keep a passel of unruly children occupied for a couple of hours. James Tilton has designed a curving, pink, multileveled setting to embrace the action and rainbow hued costumes to go along with it.
Rainbow, which has also been produced by the Rado brothers, is boisterous and intermittently engaging. But, aside from the music and the musical voices, you'd probably have just as much fun at that day-care center.
Copyright New York Daily News.