Bad vibrations reverberate -- from 'Good Vibrations'
Musical based on Beach Boys' songs does little more than play classic tunes.
By MICHAEL KUCHWARA
NEW YORK -- We're not looking for depth, but a minimum amount of "Fun, Fun, Fun," would have been nice in "Good Vibrations," the bland new jukebox musical overloaded with more than 30 songs from the Beach Boys and Brian Wilson.
As it is, the show, which opened Wednesday at Broadway's Eugene O'Neill Theatre, proves that pop classics alone can't make musical theater -- especially when accompanied by a sketchy, almost nonexistent plot, lame wit and meager character development.
The show obviously takes as its inspiration "Mamma Mia!" However, the ABBA megahit musical has a story line that seems like "Long Day's Journey Into Night" compared to what author Richard Dresser and director-choreographer John Carrafa have come up with here.
"Good Vibrations," vaguely set somewhere in the 1960s, focuses on Bobby, "the coolest dude in the senior class," and his two best buddies. After high school graduation, the three journey from the boring East Coast to the fabled land of Southern California where, as an older, wiser Bobby recalls, "the girls were beautiful, the guys were cool, everybody surfed, it was always summertime and you never had to grow up."
Bobby's two friends (Tituss Burgess and Brandon Wardell) appear almost as afterthoughts, although Burgess gets to deliver a rousing duet of "Sail on Sailor" with David Reiser, and Wardell gets to show a little emotion in a fleeting gay subplot.
Add a bit of rocky romantic entanglement between Bobby (David Larsen) and a prim, yet smart young lady (Kate Reinders), who blossoms in the California sun, and you pretty much have the story.
There is a desperate quality to "Good Vibrations" with its insistence on cramming as many numbers as possible into the show. The cast of energetic young folk works frantically to deliver these songs, which include just about every big Beach Boys hit. Among the golden oldies: "I Get Around," "Don't Worry Baby," "Surf City," "Be True to Your School," "Surfin' USA," "California Girls," "Surfer Girl," "Sloop John B" and "Help Me, Rhonda."
Yet after a while, as good as the songs are, they begin to sound alike. That's because they often are delivered in the cheerfully anonymous manner of a cruise-ship revue. And, despite the obvious miking, many of the lyrics are lost.
The performers exude an all-American geniality that doesn't allow for much quirkiness or individuality. Reinders comes off best, displaying a perky manner and comic timing not undone by Dresser's dim tale.
Carrafa's choreography is athletic at best -- lots of arm-waving, accompanied by some serious hip-swiveling.
The Beach Boys catalog of songs celebrated a particular time and place. Not much of that comes through in "Good Vibrations," although designer Heidi Ettinger's bright, primary-color settings suggest the perpetual sunshine that should infuse the evening.
In the late 1960s and 1970s after the success of "Hair," Broadway suffered through a series of awful rock musicals. Now, after the "Mamma Mia!" explosion, we are fearfully bracing for more evenings of pop songs put to work in musical theater.
"Good Vibrations" is only the first. "All Shook Up," using the songs of Elvis Presley, arrives in March. "Lennon," celebrating the life and music of John Lennon, shows up this summer. Let's hope they have better luck -- and better showcases -- than the Beach Boys.