By Judith Cookis Rubens
In 2010, Farmers Alley Theatre introduced audiences to “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” a frothy girl group who belted ’50s and ’60s hits. With its companion piece, “Life Could Be a Dream,” we now meet their male glee-club counterparts, the squeaky-clean boys formerly of Springfield High’s Crooning Crabcakes.
Desperate to move out of their moms’ basements and hungry for stardom, high school pals Denny and Eugene hatch a plan to win a big-time recording contract through the Big Whopper Radio Contest. Quickly morphing from a duo to a quartet, the boys become “Denny and the Dreamers,” adding straight-laced school pal, Wally, and newcomer, Skip, a brooding grease monkey who helps the boys win much-needed sponsorship from a local auto body shop.
Their sponsor’s daughter, Lois (Erin Oechsel), comes aboard to help the boys polish up their dance moves, but (surprise surprise) the love-struck crooners all fall for Lois. Whom she eventually picks and what happens to the group isn’t nearly as interesting as their journey, told through an ongoing medley of young love songs (“Tears on My Pillow,” “I Only Have Eyes For You,” “Unchained Melody,” and “Lonely Teardrops,” among 20 others).
Set in 1960, it’s a love letter to a more innocent time. Like creator/writer Roger Bean’s other jukebox musicals, there’s a thin story, but it’s well-organized and well-sold by a talented cast of up-and-comers.
NYC guest director Tony Humrichouser (a Western Michigan University alum) and music director Patrick Coyle deliver a high-spirited romp that finds the quartet bopping, twirling, jumping and crooning delightfully across every available inch of the nostalgic set. Their choreography is tight and polished, but it’s these performers’ heart and non-stop energy that makes it all so enchanting.
Remember these names, because it’s a good bet you’ll be hearing about these young performers in the future. Each one gets a chance to shine solo, but they also harmonize together beautifully, even on trickier numbers.
As smooth-talking leader Denny, Tyler Indyck has the dance moves and attitude of a cocky frontman, while Blake Gronlund aces his square, preacher’s son-vibe. As Skip, the bad boy-with-a-heart, Patrick Connaghan adds a slight edge, with his deep baritone voice showcased in “The Wanderer.”
But it’s Lee Slobotkin as dorky, lovesick Eugene, who pulls off the biggest surprise, musically, unleashing a powerful falsetto in “Stay” and “Only You.”
Oechsel, as perfect Lois, shines brightly, wowing the Dreamers – and audiences – with her delivery of “Unchained Melody” and “Lonely Teardrops.”
The winning closer, “Rama Lama Ding Dong,” is musical theater teamwork at its finest.
Creator Bean could have tightened his two-hour show by losing a couple first act numbers and nixing the repetitive DJ chatter, but, overall, the show is a pleasing treat.
It wouldn’t be the same without a strong live band (hidden behind the set) and W. Douglas Blickle’s elaborate “mom’s basement” set. Look closely and you’ll spot plenty of authentic kitsch, right down to the shelves of board games, shuffleboard floor and in-house intercom.
Donna McKenna’s costumes add to the flashback feeling.
‘Life Could Be a Dream’
Farmers Alley Theatre, 221 Farmers Alley, Kalamazoo. Thursday-Sunday through Aug. 11, plus Wednesday, July 31 and Aug. 7. 2 hours. $33-35. 269-343-2727. http://www.Farmersalleytheatre.com