NEW YORK — One of the stars of the new Beach Boys musical, “Good Vibrations,” is a self-ascribed hip hop lover. Another counts Avril Lavigne and Ashlee Simpson among her musical faves.
Yet, David Larsen and Kate Reinders, both in their 20s, said they developed an appreciation for the Beach Boys thanks to their parents, who introduced them to the music at an early age. They believe the band’s transgenerational appeal means the musical will have no problem resonating with audiences, either, when it opens Jan. 27 at Broadway’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre.
“If you listen to hip hop, you appreciate the lyrics,” said the blond, good-looking Larsen, who looks born to play the role of the surfer dude, Bobby. “The Beach Boys also have depth to their lyrics and very melodic lines.”
The musical, directed and choreographed by John Carrafa (“Urinetown,” “Into the Woods”), joins a string of new and about-to-be-released productions on Broadway that rely on popular music from past generations and the public’s love of nostalgia to ensure box-office success and perhaps draw a new kind of audience to the theater.
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“Mamma Mia!” did it first, incorporating 22 ABBA songs into a musical about a young woman who invites three men to her island wedding to discover which one is her father. The show became an international success after debuting in London in 1999 and has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.
“Movin’ Out,” a musical set to Billy Joel songs about buddies who go off to fight in the Vietnam War, followed with similar success.
Due on Broadway in March is “All Shook Up,” a musical that uses the songs of Elvis Presley in a tale about a guitar-strumming stranger who captivates a small Tennessee town, and “Lennon,” inspired by the life and songs of John Lennon, arrives this summer. Also in the works is a Johnny Cash musical for 2006.
Story is built on songs
Unlike musical revues, which feature song after song by an artist with little in the way of a story, each of these new pop-music musicals has a story built around the songs, using the general themes of the lyrics as a skeleton for the plot.
In “Good Vibrations,” the story revolves around three best friends — Bobby, Eddie and Dave — who graduate from high school in New England and decide to move to sunny California. Their leader, Bobby, invites mousy valedictorian Caroline (Reinders) to come along because she has a car and the boys don’t. Caroline agrees, thinking Bobby is in love with her.
When the group arrives, the popular guys from high school suddenly realize they aren’t so cool in California. Caroline, however, blossoms.
Playwright Richard Dresser said he wanted to try to capture the “sensibility of the songs” by developing a story around the themes most prevalent in the Beach Boys’ music: coming of age and the idealization of Southern California.
“There were a lot of challenges — what songs to use and how to structure them into a coherent story,” he said. “There was a lot of trial and error involved.”
Dresser said he and Carrafa studied the band’s catalog for songs with lyrics that would fit the general story line. They also had a short-list of hit tunes they had to use, including “California Girls,” “Surfin’ USA,” “Fun, Fun, Fun” and — of course — “Good Vibrations.”
“The good thing is that their hit songs are good songs,” Dresser said. “We didn’t feel like we were jamming them in there.”
Carrafa said some less well-known songs also made the cut because they fit the story so well. For example, Bobby, Eddie and Dave sing “Car Crazy Cutie” to Caroline in one scene when she discovers that they pretended to like her to take them to California. The song works its magic and Caroline agrees to continue the road trip.
As for the cast, Carrafa said he was looking for young and energetic actors who could make the songs their own.
“I wanted there to be a hipness about it, with contemporary kids telling a story about this music from the ’60s,” he said. “Early on, I decided to give ourselves license to reinterpret the songs for our kids.”
One of the best numbers features the powerfully voiced Eddie (Tituss Burgess) belting “Sail on Sailor” with the ensemble supporting him as if it were a church choir.
The edginess also translates to the set, designed by Heidi Ettinger, which features neon signs dropping from the rafters, luminescent turquoise waves, a shiny red convertible popping up from the floor and more than a dozen surfboards. The colorful costumes by Jess Goldstein are more than a little revealing — probably another subtle ploy to maintain the audience’s attention.
Carrafa said Beach Boys front man Brian Wilson was thrilled about the idea for the musical, particularly because it reinforces the notion that the group’s music is timeless, that it can relate to anyone.
“He just said, ’Here are the songs, have a blast,”’ Carrafa said.
On the sun-kissed beaches of California, that’s not a difficult task.
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