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'The Wonder Years' Of Baby Boomers

May 28, 1986|JANICE ARKATOV

Remember Etch-A-Sketch? Candyland? Batman? Wax lips? So do the creators of "The Wonder Years" (at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel's Academy Room), a spirited--and often satirical--homage to the baby-boom generation (circa 1945-64).

"About two years ago, (composer) David Levy and I were looking for a project to work on," said the show's co-author/director/choreographer David Holdgrive, on the phone from his home base in New York. "Originally, we wanted to do a revue. We'd conceived it as much smaller--sort of a cabaret piece: less people, less production values, less of a show. But we couldn't really latch onto anything, because it seems that for a revue today, you need a strong theme, a hook to hang everything on.

"Then one night we were at a party with some friends--people from all over the country, different backgrounds. And somehow the conversation turned to things from our childhood, starting with those little wax Coke bottles with that awful syrup inside, (candy) dots on a piece of paper, Pez dispensers . . . and 20 people would laugh hysterically at the mere mention of those names. We realized that we were all baby boomers, products of a television generation.

"We had our hook," Holdgrive, 28, said. "Then the problem became what to leave out. But we had two workshops prior to this production, so it was sort of a process of natural selection: The things that worked the best, got the best response, stayed. And it wasn't just a laugh meter, but an \o7 effect\f7 meter. I can't tell you how gratifying it is to do a show that people go out into the lobby talking about. It starts conversation, a whole process of remembering."

Although much of the show is devoted to nostalgic material--in "Another Elementary School," "First Love" and "Monarch Notes"--the second half attends more current concerns: "The 'Me' Suite," "Pushing Thirty".

And some cultural considerations \o7 are \f7 mixed in with the fun. Holdgrive (whose directorial and choreographic credits include "Talullah," "Can-Can" and "Dori") noted that as he and co-writers Levy, Steve Liebman and Terry LaBolt got into their research, they were amazed at the sociological impact of the baby boomers.

"We realized that, in a strange way, baby boomers really changed the world, controlled America like no other generation. In the '50s, the entire country revolved around children. The fads that started were children's fads--Slinkys, Hula-Hoops, Davy Crockett hats--that spread up to adults, as opposed to the other way around.

"Then, as the baby boomers moved on, it became a country about teen-agers: their concerns and rebellion. That process continued into the '70s and now the '80s, with yuppies setting the style."

In the show, much of that cultural trek is seen through the progress of one nuclear family: in an early scene of baby Ken Jr. terrorizing his parents from the cradle; to Ken's high school graduation (where he appears with hair out to \o7 there,\f7 ragged bell bottoms and a purple leather fringe vest); to the last scene, where hot tub salesman Ken--a bona fide conservative--pays a visit to now-divorced Mom, who's into health food and aerobics.

Although most of the moments are funny ones (with the six-person cast doing trouper duty in a series of nonstop character and costume changes), there's the occasional somber note, as in "Flowers of the '60s," about Vietnam.

"We were most afraid of the serious moments. Especially Vietnam--not only because there aren't any laughs, but because there are no answers: 'What was it about? What did we do?' It was such an uncertain, inconclusive experience; you can't tie it up with a pretty ribbon. For a long time, we were stumped, but we knew we couldn't do a show about the baby-boom generation and not include it," Holdgrive said.

With the willingness to turn a critical eye outward came a willingness for some good-natured self-examination. "The show is not really autobiographical," Holdgrive said, "though, in many ways, the characters \o7 are\f7 us. Baby boomers. And it's always easy to make fun of yourself."

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