A “dream” of a musical production at the Laguna Playhouse
By Eric Marchese | NB Indy Special
“Sh-Boom (Life Could Be a Dream)” is the name of a 1954 rock’n roll song written by James Keyes, Carl Feaster, Floyd McRae, Claude Feaster and James Edwards.
It’s also the name of a 2009 jukebox musical that features 24 songs from mostly rock and pop culture from 1954 to 1961 (including “Sh-Boom”).
Now in a new production at Laguna Playhouse, the show was originally titled “Life Might Be a Dream” but is now called “Sh-Boom! Life Might Be a Dream” (presumably to better indicate its content musical).
The show was created and written by Roger Bean, whose resume is full of similar shows like “Route 66”, “Honky Tonk Laundry” and the four “Wonderettes” musicals.
The show’s regional roots are important: the original staging, at the Hudson Theater in Hollywood, was directed by Bean and produced by David Elzer; as Elzer is Laguna Playhouse’s chief publicist, it was inevitable that “Life” would eventually land there.
Indeed, this is the second time that the venue has offered “Life” and its first live show in 19 months. The Playhouse clearly intends to bring customers back and help them feel comfortable attending live shows, making a light and enjoyable show the obvious choice.
(If you’re hesitant to venture into the live theater again, give the Playhouse staff a call. They’ll be happy to outline the pandemic protocols they’ve implemented.)
Like most jukebox musicals, the purpose of the show is to present a series of songs from a particular era. The slender plot is supposed to (and overshadowed) the musical content.
Expertly directed and choreographed by Jonathan Van Dyke and skillfully directed by Nick Guerrero, Laguna’s production does just that.
“Fools Fall in Love,” “Earth Angel,” “Runaround Sue,” “Tears on My Pillow,” “Stay”, and “Duke of Earl” are some of the more well-known selections on the playlist, but patrons of the theater will also hear obscurities like “Get a Job”, “Easier Said Than Done” and “Buzz Buzz Buzz”.
Bean ingeniously interweaves these tunes in a sparkling storyline whose goal is a trio of rock-crazy teenagers, circa 1960, determined to win a local radio show competition conceived as a search for talent.
Denny Varney (Alex Fullerton) lives in his mother’s basement, where he dreams of breaking into show biz as a rock star. After convincing his friends Eugene Johnson (Noah A. Lyon) and Wally Patton (Willie Beaton II) to join him, he aims to convince the owner of the local auto repair shop, “Big Earl” Franklin, to sponsor their participation. in the competition.
Instead of evaluating the boys himself, Big Earl sends his daughter Lois (Sophia Swannell) and his best mechanic, Duke Henderson (Dorian Quinn). Complications ensue, including Duke becoming the group’s fourth vocalist, a budding romance between Duke and Lois, and the four guys vying for Lois’ attention.
The main theme of the show is that children and teens can and should be allowed to dream their wildest dreams and be encouraged to pursue their heart’s desire. Indeed, Laguna’s production actualizes that, flaunting the teenage dream at its most fervent.
Van Dyke’s star quintet overcomes all inherent superficialities. Fullerton, Lyon and Beaton describe Denny, Eugene and Wally as typical carefree teenagers – engaging nerds and goofy shameless in their integrity.
Fullerton’s Denny is brimming with inordinate self-confidence, embodied in his boasting: “I’m a dreamer, what would I do with a steady job?” Lyon nicely sketches Eugene’s nervous temperament – not just the jitters, but the fact that he doesn’t feel relaxed around others. Beaton’s Wally has so much talent, but without the faults of his pals.
Lois shows poise and self-confidence even as she faces the hopelessly amateurish boys’ theater and put up with Duke holding her at arm’s length. In Swannell’s hands, Lois is the silent but powerful center of the story – and of this production.
Haunted by doubt, Quinn’s Duke is as mature as Lois, a fat monkey whose respect for his elders and his wives trumps all personal desires. Next to the blissful Denny, Duke is positively heroic.
The five actors positively revel in the beauty and craftsmanship of the series’ captivating songs, mastering intricate harmonies and hearing melodies that have long been part of our culture.
The cast generates pleasant harmonies and obtains an authentic doo-wop sound by performing “Fools Fall in Love”. The cover of Act 2 of the song, followed by “The Glory of Love”, is one of the highlights of the series.
Other musical heights: Lyon’s vocal work in “Only You”, while Lyon and the guys evoke the original interpretation of The Platters; Fullerton, Lyon and Beaton delivering a lovely a capella version of “(Just Like) Romeo and Juliet”; Quinn’s expressive solo tour of “A Sunday Kind of Love”; and his powerful duet with Swannell from “Unchained Melody”, act one closer.
The five numbers of the delirious and joyful grand finale are overflowing with unbridled joy, while Lyon shines as leader “Do You Love Me?” and Beaton’s pure tenor voice uplifts “The Twist”.
Throughout the show, Van Dyke subsumes his choreography to the songs themselves, their vocals, and even script characterizations, reminding us that in the jukebox musicals that are Bean’s specialty, vocals take precedence over everything.
The scenography and the costumes of the production give a visual boost. Chris Strangfeld’s making of Denny’s basement home is beautifully detailed with his prized possessions – records, electric guitar, hockey stick, trophies, and movie and concert posters – while Ellie’s costumes Chaffee and Madison Queen eschew period stereotypes in favor of a generic look that transcends all eras.
Moulton Theater, Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Drive, Laguna Beach. Until October 31. Duration: Two hours (including intermission). Tickets: $ 51 to $ 101. Ticket purchase / information: 949-497-2787, www.lagunaplayhouse.org.
For Laguna Playhouse pandemic protocols, visit https://lagunaplayhouse.com/health-and-safety-policy/.
Eric Marchese has written on many topics for various publications since the mid-1980s, but is best known for his coverage of the Orange County Theater.