"THIS WOULD BE BETTER if they were puppets," came the whisper from my audience companion at about the halfway mark of Triangle Productions' latest, '69: The Sexual Revolution Musical. She was referring to the actors, and she was pretty much spot-on. The idea of puppets singing songs about the taboo nature of sexuality in the late 1960s while depicting the stereotypical characters that came out of that era would not only be hilarious, it would make some sense out of the cartoon-like world presented in '69. Puppets would make the play a parody, which is where it ultimately goes anyway. What's tragic, however, is that I don't think a parody of America's "sexual revolution" is what '69's creators intended.
Directed and co-written by Don Horn, '69 is essentially formatted as a musical rock-revue. Five actors (Courtney Freed, Susannah Mars, Steven Nash, Tom Stewart, and Gary Wayne Cash) play various '60s-esque characters as they explore what is to them the brand-new topic of sex. It must be said that the actors (with perhaps the exception of an awkwardly cast Nash) do well in their various roles and sing their parts with vigor. Unfortunately, they are working in a one-dimensional landscape that never fully breaks the barrier of conservativeness that the actual, historical sexual revolution tore down.
This is most notably displayed in the one and only song about homosexuality in the play. It is sung by two straight female secretaries, who meet the only gay character ever portrayed in the production: a cross-dressing man who never makes contact with another man onstage. One would think that for a play trying to depict the openness of the times this wouldn't be overlooked. But alas, through numerous songs about making whoopie, doing the deed, and "getting a tune-up," we hardly see two characters touch, let alone show actual physical passion.
In brief, if you're looking for a musical that plays to comfortable stereotypes garnered with some cheeky and safe humor, then you've struck gold with '69. If you'd rather remember the '60s as the culturally relevant time that they were, you're probably better off staying home and finally catching up on Mad Men.