Updated: Nov 16, 2021
“A Rama Lama Ding Dong of a Good Time!”
Directed and Choreographed by the incredible Jonathan Van Dyke (“Mamma Mia!”), Laguna Playhouse is currently performing a spectacular salute to the greatest doo-wop hits of all time with Roger Bean’s bubblegum-laden Off-Broadway hit, “Sh-Boom! Life Could Be a Dream,” which officially opened October 17th running through October 31st, in their first show of the 2021-22 season.
Meet Denny and the Dreamers, a fledgling doo-wop singing group who has just re-invented themselves and preparing to enter the Big Whopper Radio contest to realize their dreams of making it to the big time! Trouble comes in the form of Lois, who arrives to put some polish on the boys.
Denny falls in love, Wally falls in line, Eugene falls apart, and along comes handsome heartthrob Duke to send the whole situation spinning. But those '60s hits makes everything far out. Can ya diggit? “Fools Fall in Love,” “Tears on my Pillow,” “Runaround Sue,” “Earth Angel,” “Stay,” “Unchained Melody,” “Lonely Teardrops,” and “The Glory of Love” — sure-fire winners for the baby-boomers out there. “Life Could Be a Dream” will leave you laughing, singing, cheering and standing in your seats — let’s hear it for the boys!
But, if even the title song, “Life Could Be a Dream,” (taken from the most memorable lyric in “Sh Boom,” a 1954 hit for both the Chords and the Crew-Cuts that finally sums up the mysteries of dating) gets stuck replaying in your head, the feel-good doo-wop musical welcoming audiences back to live entertainment after an exhausting 19 months is already doing its job.
Premiering in 2009, the show was originally staged at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood and produced by Bean and publicist David Elzer ("Justin Love" — LADCC Best Production), resulting in a payload of awards, including the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award, Best Production of the Year, Best Musical of the Year, and the Backstage Garland Award.
59-year-old writer Roger Bean specializes in exactly this kind of jukebox musical — a fictional story built around the popular music of a particular era. He’s best known for the ubiquitous girl-group celebration “The Marvelous Wonderettes” and its holiday-themed sequel “Winter Wonderettes,” both of which are still in regular rotation in theaters around the country. But Bean has cranked out many such popsicals, including “Route 66,” “Summer of Love,” “Honky Tonk Laundry,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” and “The Andrews Brothers.”
The show is in fact a sort of spinoff of 1999’s “Marvelous Wonderettes.” The fictional band at the heart of “Dream,” Denny and the Dreamers, is made up of former members of a high school vocal group referenced in the earlier show.
The cast features Willie Beaton II (Surflight: “Sh-Boom: Life Could Be a Dream”) as buttoned-up square Wally; Alex Fullerton (“Singing in the Rain”) as guy next door Denny; Noah A. Lyon (“A Chorus Line”) as nerdy Eugene; Dorian Quinn (“Jersey Boys”) as bad boy Duke; and Sophia Swannell (“Mamma Mia!”) as the captivating Lois, “Big” Earl's daughter.
Five years after high school graduation, Denny still lives with his mother, goofing off in the family basement (a nicely kitsch-cluttered set by Chris Strangfeld) instead of working for a living. Denny’s lack of ambition and discipline have always been his downfall, but the new WOPR Radio “Dream of a Lifetime Talent Search” has put new wind in his sails. He uses his talents as a former Crooning Crabcake (the Glee Club at Springfield High) to first create a duo, then a trio to help find the unique doo-wop sound he needs to bring his dream to reality. Jealousy rears its head when the fourth member of the group unintentionally steals Denny’s spotlight.
Mr. Fullerton is entertaining and even a little cocky as leader of the group, Denny, and nicely matched with Mr. Lyon’s amusingly nervous-nebbish Eugene (who stands out with his surprising high range and amusingly spastic antics) and Mr. Beaton’s sweetly goofy Wally, the son of a preacher who truly becomes the heart and soul of the group. Still a young thinker himself, often childish, he does have an uncanny knack for what’s important in life when the going gets tough.
Seeing the upbeat and honest performances of Denny, Eugene and Wally will right away put a smile on your face. But with no money for contest entry, they decide they’re going to need a sponsor — a conventional but effective pretext to bring in an outside influence to smooth out the threesome’s rough edges.
We never see that sponsor backing the group, but representing Big Stuff Auto are grease monkey Duke (from the wrong side of the tracks) and the boss’s beautiful daughter, Lois. Sunny Lois, immaculately styled in fetching period outfits by Costumers Ellie Chaffee & Madison Queen, has eyes only for the cooly subdued Duke, and going against her father’s advice, she insists he joins up as the group’s missing ingredient. But in doing so, she falls head over hills in love with him.
They remake themselves as “Denny and the Dreamers,” and with Duke’s help in kicking it up a few notches as lead singer, the trio becomes a rousing and harmonious quartet; Mr. Quinn’s Duke has that sort of dreamy eyed, tough but sexy 1950s look reminiscent of outsider Marlon Brando’s signature white tank top in “A Streetcar Named Desire” — and a Frankie Valli vocal range.
Performed at times as much for comedy as the sweet-sounding classics of yesteryear, the vocals are exceptionally strong, especially in the harmonies (Music Direction is by Nick Guerrero). Both the choreography and Director Van Dyke’s stage direction are quickly paced and very well constructed, capturing the synchronized dance moves typical of early ’60s singing groups.
The show closes during the radio talent contest with the lively “Rama Lama Ding Dong” but comes back on with an encore in the ultra-harmonied remix of “Unchained Melody” from the Righteous Brothers.
Exquisite Lighting Design is by Anthony Marinaro, very euphonious Sound Design is by Ian Wehrle and the Production Stage Manager is Lily Archambault. Gail Anderson is the Production Supervisor and Steve Steiner is Artistic Supervisor. Musical arrangements are by Roger Bean, Michael Borth, Jon Newton and Steve Parsons.
A full house whooped it up Friday night in a party atmosphere, crowd-pleasing performance, reveling in the golden oldies and so many golden moments. The musical revue continues through October 31st in the Moulton Theatre at the historic Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Drive, celebrating their 100th year in theatre. Performances require proof of vaccination for entry. Tickets range $51-$101. For tickets and further information about performance times, please visit www.lagunaplayhouse.com
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
PHOTO CREDITS: Boebe Productions, Surflight Theatre