Thursday, November 3, 2011

LIFE COULD BE A DREAM bops into La Mirada

Daniel Tatar, Doug Carpenter, Ryan Castellano and
Jim Holdridge. Photos by Michael Lamont

Who’s a loser doozer? You, if you don’t get to La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and see Life Could Be A Dream, the hilarious hit musical from writer/director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes, The Andrews Brothers). The award-winning show originally enjoyed an extended run at the Hudson Theatre in 2009 and then upped its profile in 2010 as part of the Laguna Playhouse schedule before landing on the La Mirada stage. Filled with laughs from beginning to end and featuring its original sensational cast, it proves that boys will be boys, love conquers all, and if you're going to say it with music, nothing says it better than the perfect 1960s song.

Set in Springfield, USA, home of those famous Wonderettes, the story follows Denny, a high school grad who still lives in his parents’ basement and communicates with his mom via the house intercom system. She wants him to get a job but his dream is to put together a singing duo with his best friend Eugene, win the local Big Whopper Radio contest, and become the next big singing sensation. Unfortunately, he still needs to raise the $50 entry fee so when their friend Wally shows up with a connection to Big Stuff Auto, a possible sponsor, the duo suddenly becomes a trio.

Jessica Keenan Wynn and Doug Carpenter

Expecting the owner of garage to come out and see their audition, they are thrown for a loop when he instead sends his head mechanic, Skip, along with his daughter Lois, to check them out. She’ll get her dad to sponsor the boys if they’ll add Skip to make a foursome, and despite objections from Denny and Skip’s initial hesitation, Denny and the Dreamers are complete.

A more lovable group of characters you won’t find than those in Life Could Be A Dream, from Skip (Doug Carpenter), the handsome heartthrob from the wrong side of the tracks to the three more socially challenged “Dreams” – Eugene (Jim Holdridge), the overly dramatic and utterly endearing nerd, Wally (Ryan Castellano), the squeaky-clean choir boy, and Denny (Daniel Tatar), their headstrong, practical joker leader. And then there’s the girl, Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), full of spunk and possessing a no-nonsense self assurance that has the boys falling head over heels at first sight. That they’re played by five dynamite actors who shine in every way possible is a bonus.

The vocal arrangements by Bean and Jon Newton, with additional arrangements by Steve Parsons, are terrific and bring out the best in each singer. Carpenter has never sounded better, whether he’s crooning a romantic ballad or popping out high notes in true ‘60s fashion and when he sings lead its heavenly. “Fools Fall in Love,” “Unchained Melody,” and “Duke of Earl” are among his many highlights and his dueling “Runaround Sue” with Tatar is a gas.

Tater, too, sounds like he’s in the best voice of his career. He may look like a loser when the show begins but when he cuts loose in his upper register and dances across the stage like he’s ready to lift off, his hidden star quality sparkles through. Under other circumstances he just might give Skip a run for his “dreamboat” money. Even Castellano is beautifully featured with Carpenter in the duet, “A Sunday Kind of Love;” a song whose lead-in is so heartfelt and sweet that an audible “awww” went through the audience when Castellano delivered his unexpected lines.

So many little touches make this musical a winner and some of the funniest come from Holdridge’s portrayal of the nerdy Eugene. Not only is he a truly delightful tenor but he can land a joke at precisely the right moment every single time and play it to the hilt without going over the top. When the audience breaks into spontaneous applause after his passionate outbursts it is well-deserved praise for a performance that is truly memorable. And Wynn impresses with a warm, rich vocal quality that will take you right back to a ‘60s recording studio on songs like “I Only Have Eyes For You” and “Lonely Teardrops.”

Lee Martino’s killer choreography gives the musical a buoyant lift with her splashy footwork and doo-wop boy band poses, and Michael Paternostro’s musical direction is perfection. The designers have turned back the clock to a first-rate vision of the time period with excellent collaboration by Shon Le Blanc (costume design), Tom Buderwitz (scenic design), Luke Moyer (lighting design), Josh Bessom (sound design), Kevin Williams (property design) and David Cruise (technical director).

All roads lead to one heck of a grand finale and by the time we get there it’s been two hours of the most joyful, high-spirited, and entertaining fun the whole family can enjoy. Quirky characters and classic '60s tunes never cease to satisfy in Life Could Be A Dream.

You can catch the show now through November 20. Click Here for tickets and more information.

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