John Carrafa—who assumes directing and choreographing duties for the first time in his career with Good Vibrations—welcomed the reporters and photographers, and then briskly introduced the cast, which was decked in warm-weather clothes.
The ensemble quickly launched into the show's opening number, "Fun, Fun, Fun." The song of a rebellious girl with a T-Bird fits snugly into the plot, which tells of a group of high school pals desperate to escape their one-factory, New England town and drive to California. Problem is: no car. So, knowing that the mousy, less-than-popular—and car-owning—valedictorian has a crush on one of the guys in question, they invite her along. Presto. They have a car.
Kate Reinders plays the duped lovesick girl. "Caroline was the girl you knew in high school who was friends with everybody but didn't necessarily fit in," she explained. "She's very smart, very involved, very ambitious, definitely her own person. She wasn't cool in high school. But, of course, high school isn't the real world. But Bobby [played by David Larsen], who wouldn't look at her twice in high school, finds out on the road trip that maybe she's worth paying attention to."
The storyline is the work of playwright and first-time librettist Richard Dresser, who didn't need to be coaxed into working on the show. "It didn't come to me," said Dresser. "I went to it, because I have been passionate about the Beach Boys and I knew they were looking for a writer. Later I found out that they had been kind of circling me. We'd been circling each other."
The road trip plot seemed a natural to Dresser. "The show is this kind of fantasy of California. When it's February and you're snowbound in New England, that's what you want to think about, an endless summer." More difficult was selecting the tunes to tell that iconic tale. "That was a huge part of it," said Dresser, "because The Beach Boys have a giant catalogue. It was this huge gift to kind of pick through this catalogue. There are some songs you need to do, that people are expecting to hear. The challenge was how to tell the story with the songs, which weren't written to advance a story. So we use some lesser-known songs."
"We went from both directions," added Carrafa. "Sometimes we just made a song list and said, 'Well, this song seems like a good Act Two opener.' And then sometimes we did an outline for the story. And then we started to put those two things together and see where songs worked, where songs didn't worked."
The other two numbers presented at the preview were one that is well known—the ballad "Don't Worry, Baby"—and one fairly unknown title, "Sail On Sailor."
About including "Sail On Sailor," Carrafa said, "It's not about just getting the hits out there. It's about telling a story. Otherwise, you just have a revue."
Unlike Carrafa and Dresser, who grew up with the music of Brian Wilson and his bandmates, most of the cast members are too young to have experienced the group during their 1960s heyday (or even their mid-70s renaissance). Nonetheless, Larsen does not believe their is a generation gap within the creative team. "Great music is always great music," he said. "Anyone who has an appreciation for music and can't find an appreciation for the Beach Boys is not the greatest musical genius."
And youthful Reinders is not as removed from the songlist as one might imagine. "Whenever we went on family road trips to visit my grandparents in Iowa," she related, "we would have three tapes we would keep putting in the cassette player, which were the Beach Boys' greatest hits, Chicago's greatest hits and 'The Muppet Movie.' I was the one saying 'Put the Beach Boys in again!'"
Though Carrafa and Dresser cloak the end of the musical tale in some mystery, it's probably a good bet that the gang gets to California and the right girls end up with the right guys. More uncertain is just how California will look inside the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. Scenic designer Heidi Ettinger was not on the premises, and Carrafa wasn't talking.
"That's the big secret," he stated. "I think the scenic effects are really special and surprising."
Reinders offered a bit more: "All I will say is you'll come into the theatre, and you'll think it will be one thing, and all of a sudden you'll be in Oz."
Hey—it worked for Wicked.