Running time 2:10 - one intermission
Price range $76 - $101
Eugene O'Neill Theatre
230 West 49th Street
Potomac Stages Broadway
The latest installment in the rash of "jukebox musicals" - musicals built on the catalogue of popular music stars or groups - is this effort to create a good time evening out of the songs of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys. Despite numerous flaws, it still does provide just that: a good time evening, but one interrupted time and again with awkward reminders of how much better it could have been. Using the technique popularized by the smash hit Mamma Mia!, this musical tries to fit over thirty of the Beach Boys hits into a slender story. Much of the fun of Mamma Mia!, however, is figuring out just how each song fits into the story. That book is clever, occasionally self mocking and witty in its approach to the task. This book, on the other hand, is obvious, clumsy and often simply ridiculous. It frequently puts a damper on the "Fun, Fun, Fun" that keeps trying to break out. The cast works awfully hard and often rises to the challenge, only to trip time and again over the combination of lame scenes and an unfortunate lack of effective musical direction.
Storyline: A group of guys get out of high school in a dead-end eastern town (New Jersey, naturally) and decide to head for California, the land of surf and babes. The only problem is their lack of wheels. One guy cons a girl who has a T-Bird into driving them west. She has a crush on him but he has no interest in her until they reach the Pacific and she turns into a super-popular lifeguard. But is it too late for them to get together?
There is a really fun show trying to break out here. Two scenes and one performance are notably successful, and many of the most famous Beach Boy songs are just as infectious as you would expect. The performance of note is the staring performance of Kate Reinders as the cool chick who gets popular on the beach in California. In the first act she's less "cool" and more gullible as the guys con her, but her marvelous rendition of "In My Room" makes her character real and likeable. In the second act she becomes so Kristen Chenoweth-ish you need to check the program to make sure it's not her. Among the beach boys in this Beach Boys musical are a hard working David Larson and an effective Tituss Burgess who makes "Help Me, Rhonda" just as much fun as it should be because he gets the self-mocking humor that the scene needs into his performance even if the script doesn't help him a lot.
Director/choreographer John Carrafa deserves kudos for the staging of one of the most challenging scenes, the one built around Brian Wilson's most difficult song to translate into a theater scene, the one that provides the title "Good Vibrations." That song is so strangely structured (actually three songs loosely connected by thematic material) that creating a single coherent scene out of it is the big challenge of the night. Carrafa does wonders with it late in the second act. But one knockout scene in each act isn't enough to make the show work as a whole, and this production keeps shooting itself in the foot just when it seems to be taking off. For example, the kids leave their high school roots behind and drive across country, stopping half way to California in a country-western bar for a beer. What one song of the Beach Boys is probably the least appropriate for such a scene? How about having the country band in the bar singing "Be True To Your School"? Yes, that is the one they use and even the energetic work of lead singer John Jeffrey Martin can't make the scene work.
Miscues abound. Heidi Ettinger comes up with a spectacular wave for the act twp beach scenes. However, it is so large they apparently don't have anywhere to store it. So the wave is still on stage for the following scene which takes place on the classic parking and petting spot on Mulholland Drive atop the Hollywood Hills overlooking the lights of the city. No one seems to notice the presence of a wave on top of a mountain. The decision to avoid setting the show specifically in the 1960s, when the Beach Boys were popular, results in Jess Goldstein's surfer costumes looking just right on the trim bods of the youngsters until you look up from the curves and abs and notice that all the guys have dangling earrings. Practically the only member of the design team that doesn't come up with something embarrassing is Tom Morse whose sound design delivers a consistently satisfying stream of audio meshing the musical performances and the dialogue with a satisfying consistency. Musical director Susan Draus, however, seems to have concentrated on the sound of the on-stage band (which is great) and ignored the fact that a musical director is also responsible for the sound of the vocalists. Brian Wilson's songs require rock solid harmony singing and this she fails to get from principals and ensemble alike.
Music and lyrics by Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. Book by Richard Dresser. Directed and choreographed by John Carrafa. Music direction by Susan Draus. Arrangements by David Holcenberg. Orchestrations by Steve Margoshes. Dance Arrangements by Henry Aronson/Jeff Kazee. Design: Heidi Ettinger (set) Jess Goldstein (costumes) Charles LaPointe (wigs and hair) Brian MacDevitt/Jason Lyons (lights) Elaine J. McCarthy (projections) Tom Morse (sound). Cast: Sebastian Arcelus, Tracee Beazer, Tituss Burgess, Heath Calvert, Tom Deckman, Milena Govich, Chad Kimball, Amanda Kloots, David Larsen, John Jeffrey Martin, Jesse Nager, Kate Reinders, David Reiser, Jackie Seiden, Brandon Wardell, Jessica-Snow Wilson.