To begin with, Rainbow isn't quite all there - in a happily deranged sense as well as in the sense of being incompletely put together. The greater part of it is simply wonderful, bursting with music and energy, but there are parts that are silly and aimless. James and Ted Rado have tried to create a pop musical (pop in the sense of art) and they have succeeded to an impressive degree. the feeling of the show is two dimensionally spacey, very bananas without being sloppy about it. The music of it is merged with the theater of it to create, exactly, musical theater. But the Rados never managed an organization for it, here trying listlessly for a story outline and there going with the general concept. So, the show at the Orpheum Theater has its ups and downs, but my goodness are the ups up. By and large it is an exhilarating show with a musical score that is simply wonderful.
It starts with an extremely well designed set (by James Tilton) that changes the shape and feel of the house so that the audience is taken into a pop dreamland of pastel curves through a gracefully spiraling platform and plastic foil sidewalls. There is an opening nod to a plot - a dead Vietnam veteran rises from his grave to go to the pop heaven of the "Radio Rainbeam Rainbow Roadshow". This is a place something like the scene of The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour, filled with quirky, kinky people who are prone to sing or say or do anything at all in any style or period at all. The Rainbow population involves presidents and wizards, twin lesbians and strippers, Buddha and a Jesus Christ with a crown of light-up thorns. This is in obvious debt to the Theatre of the Ridiculous.
The music begins promptly, to hardly ever stop. There are an amazing 42 numbers and the show would be more concert than theater were the songs just sung. But Joe Donovan has staged them with great humor and musical situation and though there is little dancing or any stage movement; and though for most of the show the entire cast is simply on stage singing, there is always the sense of theater event, helped very much by Nancy Potts' colorful and often ingenious costumes.
But the music itself: Country songs, period songs, Eddie Cantor songs, '20s and '30s songs, jazz and German cabaret music, honky tonk rock and soul music, composed with no small degree of sophistication and still tremendously melodic and catchy. It is amazing that james Rado, with no previous musical credits that I know of (he co-wrote the book and lyrics of hair) could suddenly pour forth a score so tremendously inventive, charming, funny and exciting, but here it is and it must be recorded.
This is just the kind of music our theater has been waiting for since the turn of the brassy Broadway musical - music that follows no tradition, music that obeys no past rules, music that ignores such classifications as the show tune, rock and roll, what have you, but music that is technically knowledgeable. Since this season has already had two other musicals with such scores (Dude and Doctor Selavy's Magic Theater) this is all the more amazing, but there it is. In this case, with ingenious and exciting orchestrations by Steven Margoshes, the score is wonderful altogether. What is more, it is sung by a company of first class voices that range from legitimate to jazz, from rock styling to soul styling. In terms of sheer musical enjoyment as well as opening our theater to the endless variety of musical styles, this score simply cannot be overrated.
Unfortunately, it is occasionally victimized by a harsh amplifying system, though not nearly so much as the rado brothers' lyrics. That may well have been a consolation since, on the rare unamplified occasions that made them intelligible, they turned out to be silly, if not ridiculous, and occasionally crude when they meant to be just vulgar.
The book does get in the way at times, either being adolescently philosophical or just plane coy ("May I borrow a cup of snow?"), and when the dead veteran ("Man") goes to Washington to ask the President just why he was killed in Vietnam, it is downright embarrassing. But this is overlookable considering the show's high spirits and its ability to add polish and discipline to the usually disorganized work of its off-off-Broadway progenitors. rainbow in an important sense, takes the best of both theater worlds, the underground and the professional, to make a musical of great fun and freedom. It is trippy showtime.
Copyright Women's Wear Daily.