Arts & Culture

A trip to the '60s at new SLO Little Theatre play 'My Generation'

San Luis Obispo Little Theatre’s spring fundraiser tells the story of the 1960s.

“My Generation: The music, magic and milestones of the most tumultuous decade in American history” reunites the team behind the San Luis Obispo theater company’s previous hit, “This Is Rock ’N’ Roll! The Alan Freed Story.”

Whereas that show focused on a single figure — the disc jockey credited with coining the term “rock ’n’ roll” in the 1950s — “My Generation” attempts to encompass an entire decade, from the British Invasion to the Summer of Love.

“I love that era,” said choreographer Drew Silvaggio, who collaborated with director Kevin Harris, writer David Vienna and music director Stephen Tosh. “It was a very interesting time in the world— a lot of progress and a lot of free love. What can you hate about that?”

Set in Southern California, “My Generation” depicts such cultural touchstones as the civil rights movement, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War from the perspectives of three main characters.

Booking agent Max Hirsch (Marcus DiMaggio) works behind the scenes of “Dance-O-Rama!,” a musical variety show in the same vein of “American Bandstand.”

“He thinks of himself as a progressive,” Vienna said, “but when he’s confronted by these real-life issues, it’s revealed he’s kind of old-fashioned.”

As the play opens, Max discovers that his co-worker/girlfriend, Amy Peterson (Kerry DiMaggio), is pregnant. The two hastily marry, but Amy longs for her own life as a songwriter.

Meanwhile, their musician friend Billy Trotter (Redzuan Abdul Rabin) is forced to confront his identity as a black man as he encounters racial prejudice.

“He represents a bigger picture. There’s a lot more thrown into his storyline from news events,” Vienna said, such as the 1965 Watts Riots and the 1964 championship bout between boxers Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston.

A true rock ’n’ roll musical, “My Generation” intersperses the action with popular music from the 1960s, ranging from sweet pop tunes such as Neil Sedaka’s “Calendar Girl” and Elvis Presley’s “Fools Rush In” to rebellious rockers like The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and The Who’s “My Generation.”

For instance, a scene set at an Army training camp features The Surfaris’ instrumental surf rock standard “Wipe Out.” The driving beat reveals “an undertone of fear,” said Silvaggio, artistic director for Civic Ballet of San Luis Obispo.

Simon&Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” captures mourners’ grief

over a slain soldier, while Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” underscores two characters’ very different journeys.

“The mother is singing it in terms of her own journey of having to deal with the death of her son,” explained Harris, SLO Little Theatre’s managing artistic director. “Amy is actually feeling good. She’s finally becoming empowered. Her career is starting to take off. She’s really embracing all the changes that are only happening because of Vietnam.”

“My Generation” also throws in references to the time period’s most popular books and albums — such as Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” and The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Are You Experienced.”

“So much of (the 1960s) is iconic and so different,” Harris said. “We knew there were certain milestones that we had to hit, but we didn’t want to linger on them.”

However, Vienna was determined to recognize a couple Space Race landmarks, including the 1966 premiere of “Star Trek.”

“Before the word existed, I made (Max) a Trekkie,” he said.

Now that SLO Little Theatre has tackled the 1950s and the ’60s, the “My Generation” team said they’re considering a show set in the 1970s.

“We want a quality play,” Vienna said. “We don’t want to shy away from some tough topics, but ultimately we want it to be entertaining and we want it to be fun.”

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.

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