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

By Harry Haun
February 3, 2005

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."

He is making his Broadway debut one week after his 26th birthday. "There are no teenagers in the cast," he confessed. "Almost all of us are in our 20's. We're all legal."

Carrafa and his casting director, Tara Rubin, display a fine sense of horseflesh in the players they have picked—a buoyant, athletic assemblage, scantily attired (by Jeff Goldstein) more often than not for a lot of strenuous seashore frolicking and dancing.

Most prominent among the backup singers is Chad Kimball, who previously fought The Civil War on Broadway and rose ignominiously to a kind of fame in a cow costume (as "Milky-White" in Into the Woods). "I went back and forth about whether I should do this or not," he admitted, "but I finally decided to do it, and I'm glad I did. I get to sing in 27 songs in the show, which is pretty good. And it taught me a lot about ensemble work."

His next show is an ensemble piece—and a jukebox show, this based on the music of John Lennon. Director Don Scardino will put Lennon into rehearsal on Valentine's Day with Terrence Mann and Julia Murney for an April 5 tryout premiere in San Francisco. It's targeted to take over the Broadhurst in July. Among Kimball's numbers: "Mother" and "two never-before-heard Lennon songs that Yoko Ono is making available to the show."

The auxiliary star-lighting for this "opening" was not appreciably different than what shone at the Little Women launch five nights earlier. Donna Murphy said her career hadn't changed discernably in the interim. Micky Dolenz, accompanied by his daughter from London, left the party at 10:45 PM (he rises daily at four a.m. for his radio show).

The blonde accompanying composer Frank Wildhorn to Little Women—identified then as "a pretty young thing from The Boy From Oz"—was with him again. She turns out to be Pamela Jordan, who will be in the chorus of his Scott & Zelda when it opens July 16 in Marlton, NJ. Wildhorn said his career has taken a nice bump up in the meanwhile. "I just signed the contract with [producer] Bill Kenwright to do Cyrano in London in spring of '06," he said. "It will open in Birmingham first and then moved on to the West End."

His lyricist and bookwriter on this show is Leslie Bricusse, and he hopes to land Douglas Sills for that title role as well. "Doug did such a terrific job on the demo we made of the show. I'd just love to see him get this role." (Currently, Sills is David O. Selznick in Moonlight and Magnolias, the Ron Hutchinson play bowing March 29 at Manhattan Theatre Club's Stage One.)

Susan L. Schulman was reluctant to go into a list of future projects the night her Little Women settled into the Virginia, but five days later the log jam had rectified itself and she was saying A Little Princess and The 5,000 Fingers of Mr. T. She was there in support of Heidi Ettinger, who did the sets for Good Vibrations and will do the ones for Princess.

The music for A Little Princess has been composed by Andrew Lippa, who said he was currently juggling another plate—a musical based on that squeaky-voiced (Helen Kane's) cartoon heroine, Betty Boop. Squeaky voiced? This sounds like a case for Kristin Chenoweth. Lippa wouldn't confirm or deny—he just smiled—but the fact is Chenoweth owes her Tony to the song Lippa wrote for her in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

Bringing some authentic star power and dignity to the un-opening was the Beach Boys royalty in attendance—Mike Love. Outfitted in a baseball cap that spelled out Good Vibrations, he was the center of that very thing wherever he went, moving through happy clusters of gray-haired fans who remembered and could cite chapter-and-verse concerts.

He treated them all to his Love offering for the show: "I like the choreography, the sets, especially the performances. Tituss [Burgess] was terrific, and I particularly like the way `Sail on Sailor' came off. My nine-year old daughter is here tonight. I asked her what she thought. She liked it a lot. It's the kind of show, I think, that bridges generation gaps."