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'Broadway or Bust' at Randall Theatre

Randall Theatre Company takes audiences on a tour of the '60s as portrayed in 16 popular Broadway musicals from that turbulent decade.

Traditional values were still strong in the early '60s, but the civil rights movement, assassinations of major political figures, the sexual revolution and Vietnam War protests rocked America as the decade wore on, says Kathy Wing, writer and director of the Randall Theatre Company's "Broadway or Bust."

"Shows coming out on Broadway were so much a reflection of what was happening in society," she says. "It was a tough decade to live through, but Broadway provided both an escape and a reflection of what was happening."

"Broadway or Bust" opens at 6:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 6, at Randall Theatre, 10 E. Third St., Medford. Tickets cost $20 for opening night and include food and drinks. To order tickets, call 541-632-3258 or visit randalltheatre.com.

"Broadway or Bust" continues at 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7, and Friday and Saturday, Nov. 13-14. Matinees are at 1 p.m. Sundays, Nov. 8 and Nov. 15. Tickets are $18. Remaining seats will be sold by pay-what-you-want donations 30 minutes before the start of each performance. The suggested donation is $15.

With more than 150 musicals performed on Broadway during the '60s, Wing says it was a months-long labor of love to comb through the possibilities and narrow the field to 16 musicals. She then chose 26 musical numbers to include in "Broadway or Bust." Some songs will be performed in their entirety, while others will appear in medleys.

"It's been a great process, but also an all-consuming process. I've loved every minute of it," she says.

Wing has acted, directed or served on technical crews for many of these musicals. She says putting the new show together was a great way to get in touch with her memories and share the stage with fellow performers Jon Oles, Kristen Calvin, Brad Zentgraf and Rhyon Ingalls.

Wing says she looked for musicals that will be familiar to audiences and ones they would expect to see in an overview of Broadway hits from the '60s. She also wanted to take people on a journey through the decade.

Included in "Broadway or Bust" is the musical "Bye Bye Birdie," which is set in 1958 and is a reflection of a true event — the drafting of Elvis Presley's into the U.S. Army. In a media stunt, Presley gave a last kiss to an American woman before shipping out to Germany for 18 months.

"Bye Bye Birdie," tells the story of hip-swiveling rock 'n' roll singer Conrad Birdie, who creates chaos in his small hometown after he's drafted when he kisses a teenage girl who has a boyfriend.

Wing chose the songs "Telephone Hour" and "Kids" from the musical "Bye Bye Birdie" to include in Randall Theatre's montage production. "Telephone Hour" features teens catching up on the latest gossip, while "Kids" is about adults labeling the younger generation as disobedient, disrespectful and impossible to control.

"Our cast transitions from bubbly teenagers to grumpy grown-ups," Wing says.

A narrator in "Broadway or Bust" ties the musicals together by offering interesting tidbits of historical information about the development of each musical, as well as current events of the day.

"We're telling people how these musicals came to be," Wing says. "I was looking for interesting little nuggets that will be fun for the audience and present information that maybe they didn't know before."

She notes Davy Jones starred in a '60s staging of the musical "Oliver!" He had been training to become a jockey, but was nominated for a Tony Award based on his portrayal of the Artful Dodger character in the musical about an orphan. Jones later became a member of pop-rock band The Monkees.

Other musicals featured in "Broadway or Bust" include the comedy "Hello, Dolly!" about a matchmaker, "Fiddler on the Roof" about a Jewish family dealing with personal and political challenges, the story of a dancer in 1930s Germany in "Cabaret," and "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," based on cartoon characters created by Charles Schulz.

Randall Theatre will cover 1960 through 1965 musicals in Act I, followed by 1966 through 1969 musicals in Act II.

"In the second half of the '60s, musicals became darker, edgier and didn't always have a happy ending," Wing says.

Perhaps the most iconic of 1960s musicals, "Hair" opened on Broadway in 1968 and portrays a group of young people caught up in the hippie counterculture, the sexual revolution and Vietnam War protests.

Songs from the musical became anthems of the times, Wing says.

The performers in "Broadway or Bust" will sing "Aquarius" and "Let the Sunshine In."

"A lot of people know the 'Let the Sunshine In' part," Wing says. "We'll invite them to sing along."

"Hair" created the rock musical genre, featured a racially integrated cast and shocked audiences — and prompted threats of censorship — with a nude scene.

"We are keeping our clothes on," Wing notes with a laugh.

Musical direction is by Michael Wing, with choreography by Brianna Gowland and lighting design by Kelly Latham.

Left to right: Brad Zentgraf, Kristen Calvin, Jon Oles, Kathy Wing and Rhyon Ingalls are the cast of Randall Theatre's 'Broadway or Bust.' Photo courtesy of Robin Downward