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Broadway Reviews

Good Vibrations

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - February 2, 2005

Good Vibrations A New Musical. Music and Lyrics by Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys. Book by Richard Dresser. Directed and Choreographed by John Carrafa. Scenic design by Heidi Ettinger. Costume design by Jess Goldstein. Lighting design by Brian MacDevitt/Jason Lyons. Sound design by Tom Morse. Projection design by Elaine J. McCarthy. Wig and hair design by Charles LaPointe. Musical supervision and arrangements by David Holcenberg. Orchestrations by Steve Margoshes. Cast: Sebastian Arcelus, Tracee Beazer, Tituss Burgess, Heath Calvert, Janet Decal, Tom Deckman, Carlos L. Encinias, Sarah Glendening, Milena Govich, Chad Kimball, Amanda Kloots, David Larsen, John Jeffrey Martin, Vasthy Mompoint, Steve Morgan, Jesse Nager, Kate Reinders, David Reiser, Krysta Rodriguez, Jackie Seiden, Allison Spratt, Brandon Wardell, Jessica-Snow Wilson.
Theatre: Eugene O'Neill Theatre, 230 West 49th Street
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission
Audience: Appropriate for all ages. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Schedule: Tuesday at 7 PM, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 PM, Wednesday and Saturday at 2 PM, Sunday at 3 PM
Ticket price: Orchestra $101, Mezzanine $101 and $76.
Tickets: Telecharge

Those who found Mamma Mia! too intellectually challenging finally have a show to call their own in Good Vibrations, which just rode a tidal wave of cliché into the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. For anyone who just wants to hear tunes they know ahead of time and can't care less whether the show containing them has even a single thought in its head, this song-fest made up of the greatest hits of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys will be as welcome as a warm day in the sun.

For those interested - even just slightly - in musical theatre as an art form, this show more aptly brings to mind the concept of malignant melanoma. To call Good Vibrations the nadir of the songbook book musical genre that's started to infect New York's stages would require my willingness to consider Good Vibrations a musical and the non-sung words uttered during it a book. I'm capable of capitulating to neither requirement.

Richard Dresser, however, somehow managed to snag "book" credit for his paper-thin plot, which attempts to connect some 30 Beach Boys songs with a tale about three young men, recent high school graduates from the East Coast, who trick an unpopular girl into driving them to California for the summer. When the girl finds out about this, she rails against the de facto leader of the group and promises never to speak to him again. Will she break her promise? Will she inexplicably become the toast of the California beach scene? Will she and the lead guy realize they're perfect for each other? How many of the three guys will turn out to be gay? Who cares? The answers to these questions won't be divulged here.

What I will say, though, is something that can never be said often enough in these days when it seems like producers will produce anything that doesn't require an original score: Pop songs can never truly be integrated into a book musical. If they're not written for a book, then they won't work correctly with a book. "Fun, Fun, Fun" doesn't satisfy as an opening number because it can tell you nothing about the characters who'll take part in the story. "Help Me, Rhonda" doesn't magically become a character song because the person singing it is trying to get over a failed relationship and meets a girl named Rhonda. And so on.

Of course, trying to ascribe logic to anything here is pointless. It's obvious that neither the producers, Wilson, Dresser, nor the show's director John Carrafa cared about any of this. And, to be frank, after a good half an hour or so, even my resistance started to flag: The famous tunes (which include "Surfin' USA," "California Girls," and the title song) are great at making you forget your troubles and the chilly winter weather, and they're played by a bouncy band under Susan Draus's baton and sung by two dozen or so young and energetic performers.

But the charisma-free, eye-candy cast can't make the songs or the flimsy threads of dialogue tying them together in any way dramatic. Kate Reinders is enjoyably perky as unpopular French club president Caroline (thus named so as to inspire "Caroline, No" in the second act, of course); David Larsen, Brandon Wardell, and Tituss Burgess are fine enough as the vapid central trio; and Heath Calvert, Chad Kimball, John Jeffrey Martin, Jesse Nager, and David Reiser provide some authentic Beach Boys flavor as a quintet always in the right place at the right time to provide backup vocals.

And with the exception of the choreography - derivative and uninspired even by Carrafa's impeccable standards of artlessness - the production looks professional. Heidi Ettinger's beach-fantasy set, if never surpassing her more unique and evocative designs for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or the recent Dracula, The Musical, executes a few neat tricks with color and perspective; Brian MacDevitt and Jason Lyons have designed a nicely varied lighting scheme (not just hot California sun) that plays well with Elaine J. McCarthy's often hyperactive yet frequently humorous projections; and Jess Goldstein's costumes are a tribute to the excess of less, leaving enough skin showing on the guys and the girls to satisfy the most tired businessman or woman.

It's just that none of this matters in the slightest, and the entertainment Good Vibrations provides - even in, or perhaps especially in, its calculatedly caffeinated curtain-call beach party - isn't adequate compensation for what it lacks in satisfying content. Yes, the songs are great; "I Get Around," "When I Grow Up to Be a Man," "Car Crazy Cutie," and most of the others are enjoyable strictly on a musical level. But after sitting through two hours of this anesthetizing abomination of a show, the only song I could relate to was "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times."

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