Springfield High has spawned some pretty remarkable singing groups: first the Wonderettes, and now Denny and The Dreams. It all started with an unseen group called the "Crooning Crabcakes" who were the sensation of Springfield but were banned from the prom, leaving room for the Marvelous Wonderettes to take center stage. Well, The Marvelous Wonderettes played for 19 months at the El Portal Theatre before singing their way into the hearts of New Yorkers for the last year, and they are still running. They also played at the Laguna Playhouse and will appear again at Musical Theatre West next April.
In hopes that lightning will strike twice, the creator and director Roger Bean has fashioned a 1950's doo-wop sh-boom musical called Life could Be a Dream. This time there is a semblance of a plot (although a very thin one), in which a loser group of guys form a singing group to enter and win a talent contest at the local radio show (Big Whooper Radio).
They are helped along the way by a very pretty girl, Jessica Keenan Wynn (yes, granddaughter of actor Keenan Wynn) who is the object of all the boys’ desire. This, of course, leads each boy and girl to sing those heartfelt longing smaltzy 50's tunes like “Tears on My Pillow,” “A Sunday Kind of Love,” “Lonely Teardrops,” ”The Glory of Love,” and a terrific version of “Unchained Melody.” Ironically the best song in the show was one from a different era that became a retro hit in the 50s: “I Only Have Eyes For You.” Wonderful!
The cast consists of guys who are familiar to Southern California audiences. Daniel Tartar, who plays Denny, is well known for his appearances in Kiss of The Spider Woman, Last Five Years, Fiddler on the Roof (at the Rubicon), and the Ovation–winning Paradise Lost: Shadows and Wings. Denny is the character who decides he can form a group and win the contest. Onto the scene comes Eugene, the nerd of the group, played by the brilliant, scene-stealing Jim Holderidge. There is nothing especially new about this character, but Holderidge plays it so well and manages to get every laugh that we forgive the stereotype.
Ryan Castellino plays a church boy with a good voice whom they rope into joining. The last guy to join is a local grease monkey who happens to stop by and confesses that he can sing a little. Boy, is that an understatement, because the very handsome Doug Carpenter, opera-trained, sings the hell out of such standards as "The Great Pretender" and “Duke of Earl.” I doubt these songs have ever been sung by such a strong voice.
Tom Buderwitz has designed a perfect 50's rec room set. Luke Moyer provides the very creative lighting, with Cricket Myers responsible for the well-balanced sound design. Shon Leblanc provides the period-perfect costumes. The super-talented Michael Paternostro provides the musical direction. Lee Martino gives us the limited but effective choreography, and Roger Bean does a bang-up job of directing.
Depending on your tolerance for yet another 50's musical and a thin plot line, Life Could Be A Dream could be for you – it offers some great tunes and some outstanding singing. It plays at The Hudson Mainstage through September 27, though I predict many extensions and full houses ahead.