Woodstock: Back to the Garden
Production rocks with classics
September 25, 2009
By Michael Grossberg
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Far from a bad trip, Woodstock: Back to the Garden can be enjoyed as
a sweetly nostalgic journey back to the late 1960s.
Shadowbox captures the myths and music of the 1969 rock festival
in a new musical that often overcomes the limits of its documentary genre.
It's also fun for almost anyone who loves great rock music.
But Woodstock, suggested for adults because of profanity, doesn't
offer the drama or comedy and depth of characterization that
Under the lively direction of Steve Guyer and strong vocal
direction of Stacie Boord, the production offers superb singing and
At Sunday's opening in Easton Town Center, the terrific band
anchored and energized the show. And when the music making merges
with the singing, dancing, long-haired wigs and colorful costumes,
more than a few moments evoke how it must have felt to be at
Woodstock (minus the mud or bad drugs).
The peaks are all musical - especially crowd favorites such as My
Generation; With a Little Help From My Friends; and Feelin' Alright,
which caps a sequence with drama and comedy.
Among the effective "celebrity" performances: Jerrod Roberts as
Richie Havens (Freedom), Boord as Joan Baez (Joe Hill), J.T. Walker
III as Arlo Guthrie (Coming Into Los Angeles), Jennifer Hahn as Janis
Joplin (Piece of My Heart), Guyer as Country Joe (Fish Cheer/Fixin'
To Die Rag) and Dante Wehe as Jimi Hendrix (The Star-Spangled Banner).
Writer Jimmy Mak adequately condenses Woodstock's three days of
"peace, love and music" into two acts and almost 2 hours of "You are
But the narrative frame is weak: Mak appears in the
often-thankless observer's role of a New York Times reporter, who
struggles to put a positive spin on the traffic-jammed event.
Several seasoned non-Shadowbox actors make the most of video
monologues as aging boomers looking back on their Woodstock memories.
The videos suggest a token effort at balance, but they add
much-needed perspective to a show that genuflects too much at the
altar of an overhyped concert.
Shadowbox will present
Woodstock: Back to the Garden
at 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sundays
through Nov. 15 at Easton Town
Center. Tickets cost $30, or $20
for students and senior citizens.
Call 614-416-7625 or visit www.
It's just like being there (minus the mud)
By Richard Ades
September 23, 2009
Any show that re-creates moments from Woodstock is worth
seeingespecially one that re-creates them as well as Woodstock: Back
to the Garden.
The new Shadowbox musical comes on the rock festival's 40th
anniversary, which is both a boon and a drag.
It's a boon because the milestone has put everyone in a nostalgic
mood, even those who were too youngor too straightto have
experienced the festival first-hand. And it's a drag because much of
what the show says has already been said during the recent deluge of
media coverage. That's especially true of Back to the Garden's video
segments, in which alleged Woodstock alums talk about what those
three muddy days meant to them and the nation.
Still, the segments are well delivered by a host of local actors and
other notables, and they offer a well-balanced range of opinions on
the festival. Besides, they represent only a small portion of a show
that boasts lots of beloved songs, all tied together by Jimmy Mak's
loose but clever script.
Mak himself plays the central character, a fictional New York Times
reporter named Rodney Benton. Just like the real-life reporter on
whom he's based, Benton finds himself increasingly impressed by the
atmosphere of peace and cooperation that permeates the event despite
overcrowding and miserable weather. And he becomes increasingly
frustrated by his newspaper's refusal to publish his admiring
stories, preferring to dwell on traffic tie-ups and other
Even so, Benton keeps doing his journalistic job. In between songs
and stage announcements by emcee Chip Monck (a droll David
Whitehouse), he wanders around asking the young patrons why, for
example, they smoke pot and drop acid. His questions sometimes amuse
the stoned kids, and they often inspire members of the crowd to break
into songs that were actually performed at Woodstock.
These numberssometimes small and intimate, other times big and
accompanied by energetic hippie dancingare handled with panache by
director Steve Guyer and his cast. But nostalgic boomers and other
admirers of 1960s culture will have the most fun when Woodstock songs
are delivered by Shadowbox's top-notch impersonators of the original
Just minutes into the show, Jerrod Roberts sets the standard high
with his fierce approximation of Richie Havens's "Freedom," followed
by JT Walker III's twang-perfect facsimile of Arlo Guthrie singing
"Coming Into Los Angeles."
Similarly impressive: Stacie Boord's Joan Baez ("Joe Hill"), Jennifer
Hahn's Janis Joplin ("Piece of My Heart") and Guyer's Country Joe
("Fixin' to Die Rag"). But let's face it, the whole show is really a
lead-up to Jimi Hendrix's inspired take on "The Star Spangled
Banner." Guitarist Dante Wehe doesn't have the amp power he needs to
copy Hendrix's expressive use of feedback, but he has the chops to
handle the rest of the classic just fine.
"The music will never be like that again," a dejected Woodstock alum
says in one of the video interludes.
Shadowbox's musical earns its place on the Woodstock nostalgia train
by reminding us, colorfully and entertainingly, that a lot of things
will never be like that again.