Updated: Mar 25
In This Companion Piece to The Marvelous Wonderettes...Let’s Hear it For The Boys!
There’s something about the music of the 1950s and 60’s that forms a quintessential part of American nostalgia and culture. Groups, standing on street corners, singing a cappella, harmonizing…creating new sounds. Doing swing, barbershop, blues — groups like the Ink Spots and The Mills Brothers.
Some of them even began cutting records and hitting the airwaves. By the end of 1950, roughly 95% of all households had a radio, and a new-fangled invention called a TV. American Bandstand lit up the music world and helped launch talented neophytes to rocket-star fame. During the next decade, record sales soared as listeners fell in love with all sorts of new music crazes, notably doo-wop, the music that preceded rock ‘n roll, then incorporated it, profoundly shaping the sound of American pop music.
This same sense of energy, experimentation, and musical vivaciousness are fully captured in the musical "SH-BOOM! Life Could Be a Dream," which opened at Stage Door Repertory Theatre just last Saturday night, and plays through March 19th. Technically, there’s a story here about an up-and-coming doo-wop group and a contest, but let’s face it: it’s a jukebox musical. You really go for the singing!
Writer-director Roger Bean specializes in exactly this kind of show — a fictional story wrapped around a couple dozen famously popular songs of a particular era, rather than writing original music. He’s best known for the ubiquitous girl-group celebration “The Marvelous Wonderettes” and its holiday-themed sequel “Winter Wonderettes,” both of which are in regular rotation in theaters around the country. But Bean has cranked out many other such “popsicals,” including “Route 66,” “Summer of Love,” “Honky Tonk Laundry,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” and “The Andrews Brothers.”
Now — get set for another trip to the fictional 1960s-era burg, Springfield, USA, where we meet the boy group banned from the Springfield High School prom which made it possible for "The Marvelous Wonderettes" to perform there. The spin-off name is taken from the most memorable lyric in “Sh-Boom,” a 1954 Top 10 hit for both the Chords and the Crew-Cuts, and the show is also packed with other period hits, like “Earth Angel,” “Tears on my Pillow,” “Just Like Romeo & Juliet,” “Runaround Sue,” “Unchained Melody” and “Duke of Earl.”
A simple but breezily engaging narrative smoothly incorporates 25 chart-topping tunes from rock 'n' roll's heyday. It’s decades before “American Idol” and “Star Search,” and a local radio station is sponsoring a band competition with a recording contract as the prize. Brash Denny (Kyle Hill; “American Cheese TV” – YouTube), a socially awkward layabout who lives in his mother’s basement; nervous-nebbish soda jerk Eugene (Tyler Stouffer; “Spamalot,” 3-D Theatricals), and sweetly goofy, preacher's son Wally (Daniel Byrne; “Peter and the Starcatcher – NENA Productions) form a trio to compete for their big shot at stardom.
The guys audition for heart-stopper, Lois (Linsey Rene; “The Rocky Horror Show” - Mysterium), the daughter of an auto shop owner, hoping she can persuade her father to sponsor their novice group. But she insists a quartet is the only way to go. Enter her dad's mechanic, leather-jacketed hottie Duke (Charlie Battaglia; “Jesus Christ Superstar;” “American Idiot”), who joins the group and wins Lois' heart, and vice-versa. Unfortunately, he's from the "wrong side of the tracks.” And it’s only a matter of time when Lois' status-conscious dad learns of the romance.
"Dream" is almost too cute, and amazingly squeaky-clean, more Pat Boone than James Dean. But then, Denny and the Dreamers weren't inner-city kids singing on street corners or, like “The Jersey Boys," bad boys indebted to the mob. These kids are just out of high school, still clinging to past glory as former members of the glee-club, “The Crooning Crabcakes.”
And, of course all the guys go gaga for Ms. Rene’s sunny Lois, immaculately styled in fetching period outfits by costumer Julie Charles. But she only has eyes for the coolly subdued Duke and insists he join up as the group’s missing ingredient.
It’s not all peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, though. When the three former “Crabcakes” start out by doing their backup moves in their typical geeky, trekkie, adenoidal way, Duke notes, "It's like Jerry Lewis taught the Three Stooges how to dance."
Prior to the smashing talent-contest finale, Bean gives each performer stellar turns in the spotlight, augmented by a blissful cavalcade of harmonic group numbers. As the brooding Duke, Mr. Battaglia adds his charismatic golden voice, hitting songs like Dion's "Wanderer," and “Fools Fall in Love” with authority. And Ms. Rene is likewise enchanting as the spunky ingénue, showcasing her terrific soprano in solos and dreamy duets with Mr. Battaglia, bringing the romance to tunes like, "I Only Have Eyes for You" and "Unchained Melody."
The nimble and silver-tongued Mr. Hill is also hilarious as Denny, strutting his stuff divinely in such highlights as “Dreamin’” and “Get a Job.” Mr. Stouffer, a virtuoso physical comic (you may have seen his over-the-top performance recently at Rose Center Theater’s “Waiting in the Wings”), works through his pain as he parlays the melancholy "Tears on My Pillow" into a sidesplitting gem, and Mr. Byrne is warm and witty, enjoying his crowning moment leading the group in the evergreen, "The Glory of Love."
The finale sequence features Denny & The Dreamers returning from their triumphant world tour (“Pretty Little Angel Eyes”), and the quartet becomes a quintet as Lois joins them onstage in a doo-wop finale extravaganza (“Do You Love Me”/”The Twist”/”Rama Lama Ding Dong”/”Unchained Melody (reprise).
With a powerhouse cast and formidable behind-the-scenes talent, SDRT spins entertainment gold from Bean's lovingly crafted formula revue, complete with Arianna Hyatt’s showstopping choreography, Jessica Cosley's knockout music direction, and deliciously evocative design elements from Nick Charles, which enhances the joys in this cotton-candy treat – a musical which has already duplicated the runaway success of its fraternal twin, "Wonderettes."
So, if you want unapologetically escapist entertainment, if you want to hear vintage doo-wop standards in heavenly harmony, superbly rendered in every way — this is your ticket.
STAGE DOOR REPERTORY THEATRE proudly presents, the smash hit Broadway musical, SH-BOOM! LIFE COULD BE A DREAM, THE 1960’S DOO-WOP MUSICAL, now performing from February 26th through March 19th. Performance dates and times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM, Sundays at 2PM. An Additional Matinee is included at 2PM on closing night, Saturday, March 19th.
WITH: Kyle Hill (Denny Varney); Tyler Stouffer (Eugene Johnson); Daniel Byrne (Wally Patton); Charlie Battaglia (Duke Henderson); Linsey Rene (Mrs. Varney/Lois Franklin).
Written and created by Roger Bean; musical arrangements by Roger Bean & Jon Newton; Additional Music by Steve Parsons; Directed by Nick Charles (“Bright Star”); Musically Directed by Jessica Cosley (“Miss Saigon”); Choreographed by Arianna Hyatt (“Life Could Be a Dream – SDRT 2017); Stage Manager, Donna Nelson; Costumes, Julie Charles; Set Design, Nick Charles; Lighting Design, Nick Charles; Light/Sound Board Operator – Nick Charles; Sound Design, Clark Cooper; Graphics, Tyler Stouffer; Executive Producers, Nick & Julie Charles; Photography, Amy Gettys.
Ticket prices are $22-28 for general admission. 1045 N. Armando Street, Ste B, Anaheim. Email: email@example.com. Tickets may be purchased at https://www.stagedoorrep.org or by calling the Theatre Department box office at 714-630-7378.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report
Photo Credits: Amy Gettys