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Back to the Garden Now Playing at Shadowbox

Walker Evans Walker Evans Back to the Garden Now Playing at Shadowbox
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On February 7th, by the popular demand of their fans, Shadowbox re-opened Back to the Garden, their hit musical journey through the Woodstock Festival. For this latest version, there were a few changes in the cast, as well as a name change. We sat down with Steve Guyer, Shadowbox CEO and director of the musical to find out more about the show.

Q. Tell us a little bit about how Back to the Garden originally came to be? Did the 40th anniversary last year play into it?

We were in a Creative Team meeting talking about selecting new musicals for 2009 and bemoaning the fact that there are a very limited number of good rock music musicals when Katy Psenicka suggested we create our own musical based on the Woodstock festival.  Of course, as soon as she suggested it we realized what a great idea it was and gave Jimmy the job of outlining a possible story and me the task of selecting possible songs.  To be honest, it was quite some time before anyone realized that 2009 was the fortieth anniversary year of the original festival.

Q. The first run of the show in 2009 seemed to do very well, and received quite a bit of critical praise. Was that expected or unexpected? Did you guys know that you had a hit on your hands?

We knew we had an audience pleasing hit from the get go.  The show has a resonance that is as obvious to the cast and crew as it is to the audience.  Critical praise, on the other hand, is always a surprise.  In our experience critics seem to say great things about shows in a very random way – a few really awful shows are praised and a few really great shows are panned.

Q. The burning question on everyone’s mind: How historically accurate is the show?

The show is very accurate in terms of the little stories we tell throughout.  For example, Artie and Mike really did abandon Iron Butterfly at the airport because they were afraid that their music might incite the crowd.  On the other hand, we virtually ignored the actual order of the songs being performed.  We start the ‘concert’ with Richie Havens but open the show with Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock – she wasn’t even there, she was doing a television talk show and wrote this song after the fact.

Q. There’s a great video of Country Joe McDonald who attended the show and got up to say a few words afterwards. Tell us a little bit about that experience.

It was a great honor and a little frightening to perform for Joe.  I mean, we’ve performed for lots of celebrities over the years but we’ve never taken their personal experience and turned it into a musical (and I’ve certainly never performed someone’s signature song in front of them before.)  Overall, Joe was thoughtful and very generous with his comments.  He’s a very opinionated guy and not much has changed about his politics from his Woodstock days.  We can’t wait for him to come back and next time around he’s going to play 4 or 5 songs with our band.  It should be quite a night.

Q.  You guys also ran into a bit of controversy over the name, and had to drop Woodstock from the title, correct? Does it seem a bit ironic that what most people view as one of the most “open/creative/understanding” festivals of all time has rigid enforcement when it comes to intellectual property rights?

Yeah, it seems powerfully ironic but, to be honest, that’s disingenuous.  Mike’s just protecting his intellectual property in the way that the law demands.  If he just let anyone and everyone use it he loses his ownership (as it pertains to music, musicals and concerts) and obviously that name is worth quite a bit.  So, yeah it sucks and represents capitalism in all its glory but I understand why it happened.  Frankly, it was very generous of him not to ding us the first time around.

Q. So, the show re-opened on February 7th – Tell us a bit about what’s changed, what’s the same, and why we all need to come out to see it!

The basic show is unchanged; we’ve tweaked a few dances and lights but that’s about it.  The lead characters are the same with the exception of David Whitehouse who played Chip Monk, the emcee.  David has selfishly decided that the birth of his first child is more important than this show.  Beyond that, we’ve only changed out a couple of other performers in the chorus.

Overall, I honestly think the revival will be every bit as strong as the original and that Back to the Garden remains a show not to be missed.  (Personally, I think hearing 30 voices sing “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is worth the price of admission.)

Back to the Garden re-opened at Shadowbox Caberet at 7pm on Sunday, February 7th and will play every Sunday at 2:30 and 7pm until a date yet to be determined. Click here to read past reviews of the show.

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