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'Life' a nostalgic 'Dream' at Playhouse

On Theater

July 16, 2010|By Tom Titus

Back in the middle and late 1950s, the woods were full of teen-age singing groups rehearsing in basements and garages, all determined to be the next Big Thing in pop music. A few of them (Buddy Holly and the Crickets, for instance) actually did so.

Creator-director Roger Bean, who gave the world (and the Laguna Playhouse) the "Marvelous Wonderettes" a few seasons ago, has come up with another musical adventure that will strike a particularly nostalgic chord with those of us who grew up in the '50s when the doo wop-rock 'n' roll sound came into prominence.

It's called "Life Could Be a Dream," the title taken from the lyrics of the hit single "Sh-Boom," and it's pure musical nirvana as it follows the former Crooning Crabcakes, the group the Wonderettes replaced, through their labor pains as a duet, a threesome, a quartet and, finally, a mixed-gender quintet.

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There's Denny, the erstwhile leader (Daniel Tatar), his nerdish pal Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and their straight-arrow preacher's kid buddy Wally (Ryan Castellino), striving awkwardly to form a group called Denny and the Dreamers. It's a seemingly impossible mission, even without the constant interruptions from Denny's mother on the basement intercom.

Enter Skip (Doug Carpenter), the "head mechanic" at their prospective sponsor's auto repair shop, who's possessed of a voice Elvis would envy. And topping it off is the boss' daughter, Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), a prim young cutie who's lusted after by the original trio but who immediately hones in on Skip.

The latter pair soon take the spotlight in a cutely contrived plot about romance on the "wrong side of the tracks" and both lend superior vocal tones to the project. Carpenter excels in the title role of the "Duke of Earl" while Wynn — the youngest member of a Hollywood dynasty rivaling the Barrymores — beautifully renders the heartbreak-tinged "Lonely Teardrops."

Tatar, Holdridge and Castellino get their licks in with upbeat renditions of "Tears on My Pillow," "Runaround Sue" and "The Wanderer," among several others. The quintet wraps up the first act with a poignant "Unchained Melody," a reminder that this '50s song predated both the Righteous Brothers and "Ghost."

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