PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Good Vibrations: A Day at the Beach

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03 Feb 2005

From Top: David Larsen; Kate Reinders; Tituss Burgess; Jessica-Snow Wilson; David Warren and Donna Murphy; Chad Kimball; Frank Wildhorn and Pamela Jordan; Micky Dolenz
From Top: David Larsen; Kate Reinders; Tituss Burgess; Jessica-Snow Wilson; David Warren and Donna Murphy; Chad Kimball; Frank Wildhorn and Pamela Jordan; Micky Dolenz
Photo by Aubrey Reuben

Oh, the weather outside was frightful Jan. 27, but inside the Eugene O'Neill the surf was up and all was right with the world on a stage where a Beach Boys blanket of songs had been neatly laid out for customers to partake of. As good ideas go, Good Vibrations had it all over Good Shivers, so who were we to hold out—hard-nosed—for an official first night?

Critics start descending Jan. 28 to take their bite out of sand and sun—as "essential to The Theatre—as ants to a picnic," didn't Addison DeWitt once say?—and their reports will be posted Feb. 3, the day after The Official Opening. Jan. 27, which was the originally scheduled opening, was the last night the cast could kick up its hedonistic heels in a critic-free environment—as good an excuse as any to go ahead with the "opening night" party. (Party-planners are apparently harder to move than critics once the die is cast, even though the show's prime-mover, Dodger Theatricals, was the landlord of the party site.)

Both subterranean floors of Dodger Stages on West 50th were utilized for the festivities. It wasn't the most felicitous of settings. The narrow boxcar confines of the layout made for molasses mobility, and any tan you acquired from the show faded fast against its bunker-like cement.

David Larsen, Kate Reinders, Tituss Burgess, Jessica-Snow Wilson, Brandon Wardell, Sebastian Arcelus, Melena Govich and John Jeffrey Martin are the New Faces of 2005, passing in the show for the Class of 19...—well, a while back. (Reinders and Govich have obligatory Beach Boys names such as Caroline and Rhonda to facilitate the song segues.)

Like the temperature outside that night, the characters on stage are in the teens—seniors at an East Coast high school going West on a whim for some surf, sun and sex. Mindless, you say? Right, and weren't we all? The book comfortably contains almost three dozen songs by Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys and does what essentially a jukebox musical is supposed to do.

Unlike All Shook Up, the upcoming Elvis Presley parade of hits, Good Vibrations attempts to evoke and emulate the original sound of the records rather than recast and recharacterize them in a way wholly different from how they were initially presented. There is still, after all these years, a primal pull from by-gone golden-oldies like "Sail on Sailor," "Wouldn't It Be Nice," "I Get Around," "Surf City," "Breakaway," "In My Room," "California Girls," "God Only Knows," "Help Me, Rhonda," "Your Imagination," and "Fun, Fun, Fun."

John Carrafa, whose specialty is working character into his choreography (Into the Woods, Urinetown), animates the music above in his usual muscular and amusing style, but this time he made it harder on himself by taking up the director's megaphone for the first time. "It has been a pretty frantic time for me," he admitted. "It was particularly hard because I was putting in changes every day, and at the same time I was trying to make what we had as good as I could. Also, we were tryout out in town in front of friends and enemies alike and the Internet people who make a beeline to chat rooms."

Accordingly, he asked a director pal, David Warren, to step in and give him an uncredited hand. Warren gladly obliged, has been on the case for 13 days and is inclined not to define his specific contributions to the show. "I'm just doing this as a friend," he said. "I want John to have as much credit as possible. He worked very hard on this show."

Warren is more inclined to talk about his own upcoming project: "I'm going to do an interactive South African musical, called Drumstruck, right here at Dodger Stages in March. I leave for Johannesburg soon to meet with the cast and do my drum research."

Carrafa, in a tireless blue shirt that wasn't tucked into his pants, drew a sartorial compliment from Warren, in a buttoned-down red shirt with a black tie. "John said he was planning to wear a red shirt, and I told him I was planning to wear a red shirt, so he said he thought he had a nice blue one to wear." The two rattled on like this, but Warren insisted that Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen started like this. "Then came the big stuff."

In light of the pressure he has gone through of late, would Carrafa be interested in going that hectic, hyphenated, two-hatted route again? "Absolutely!" he declared with finality. In fact, he is already in huddles with The Dodgers on his next. Extracting its title is like playing charades: it's from a movie, with a known score and "very, very romantic."

"Absolutely!" is how Richard Dresser responds to the question of whether he would come back for seconds as the bookwriter of a musical. "This is my first musical, and I love the process," said the playwright whose previous plays in New York (Below the Belt, Gun-Shy and Rounding Third) were well-received. "Day in and day out, I loved going to work. It was hard, of course, but I wouldn't hesitate a second to do it all again."

Conspicuous among the New Faces on stage is the fresh, funny one of Tom Deckman, previously seen in New York in a not-dissimilar musical for Encores! called Bye, Bye , Birdie. His primary role of geeky class president gives him license to mug and comes alarmingly easy to him. "Truthfully, I was really never very good in school, but, because I looked like such a dork, everybody assumed that I was much smarter than I actually was."


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