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Life Could Be a Dream By Les Spindle August 12, 2009

The title neatly sums up the euphoric charge generated by this feel-good musical. Writer-director Roger Bean, a master at fashioning intimate jukebox tuners (The Andrews Brothers), is in high-flying form with this world-premiere offering, a spinoff from The Marvelous Wonderettes. Revisiting that show’s fictional 1960s-era burg, Springfield, USA, Bean replaces the high school singing girls group with a postgraduate boy quartet. A dynamite cast and formidable behind-the-scenes talents spin entertainment gold from Bean’s lovingly crafted pastiche. A simple but breezily engaging narrative smoothly incorporates almost 30 chart-topping tunes from rock ‘n’ roll’s heyday. Brash Denny (Daniel Tatar), geeky soda jerk Eugene (Jim Holdridge), and feisty preacher’s son Wally (Ryan Castellino) form a trio to compete for the big prize—and a shot at stardom—in a local radio-station contest. The guys audition for Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), the daughter of an auto shop owner, hoping she can persuade her father to sponsor their novice group. But she insists a quartet is the way to go. Enter her dad’s mechanic, leather-jacketed hottie Skip (Doug Carpenter), who joins the group and wins Lois’ heart. Unfortunately,

he’s from the “wrong side” of the tracks. What will happen when Lois’ status-conscious dad learns of the romance? Prior to the smashing talent-contest finale, Bean gives each performer stellar turns in the spotlight, augmented by a blissful cavalcade of harmonic group numbers. Carpenter, a spectacular baritone, finds his breakout role here. He’s a charismatic charmer, offering an endearing characterization and bravura renditions of classics such as “The Wanderer.” Wynn is likewise enchanting as the spunky ingénue, showcasing her terrific soprano in solos and dreamy duets with Carpenter. Nimble and goldenvoiced Tatar is hilarious as the narcissist Denny, strutting his stuff divinely in such highlights as “Who Put the Bomp?” Holdridge, a virtuoso physical comic, parlays the melancholy “Tears On My Pillow” into a sidesplitting gem, and Castellino is warm and witty, enjoying his crowning moment in the evergreen “The Glory of Love.” Lee Martino’s showstopping choreography, Michael Paternostro’s knockout music direction and deliciously evocative design elements enhance the joys in this cottoncandy treat, which seems certain to duplicate the runaway success of Wonderettes.


Life Could Be a Dream a fabulous, feel-good musical! By Candyce Columbus August 17, 2010

Go chipmunks. The Marvelous Wonderettes writer and director Roger Bean is back with another fabulous, feelgood musical set in Springfield, USA, Life Could Be a Dream. Produced by David Elzer, Peter Schneider and Crooning Crabcakes, LLC, with musical direction by Michael Paternostro and choreography by Lee Martino, the show provides the perfect tonic for economic woes, summertime blues and whatever other life challenges abound. Currently performing at the Hudson Mainstage Theatre, set in 1960 and billed as a Doo-Wop musical the show centers around the aspirations, musical and otherwise, of five recent high school graduates. Here are some of the reasons Life Could Be a Dream is so fabulous: The Talented Singer/Actors Daniel Tatar as Denny, who would rather win the WOPR radio contest than “get a job,” Jim Holdridge as Eugene, who despite his two-left feet and job at his father’s sweet shop shares that dream, Ryan Castellino as Wally, the church boy whose upbringing doesn’t prevent him from strong-arming his way into the group, Jessica Keenan Wynn as Lois, with whom all the boys are in love and whose father could provide the $50 needed to enter the contest, and dreamy Doug Carpenter as Skip, the boy from the other side of the tracks trying to make a new life for himself. Sound like an episode of Happy Days? Sure, why not? Played (and sung) straight and with sincerity by this extraordinary ensemble, the sweet story is an audience-pleasing and delicious romp. The Music Songs come from a time (a little before and a little after 1960) when the emphasis was on tight harmonies, memorable melodies and danceable beats, including “Tears On My Pillow” with a laugh out loud, perfectly-timed performance by Holdridge; “Fools Fall In Love” when Skip joins the boys for the first time (the harmonic blend of their voices produced goose bumps, it was that good); the Lovin’ Lois Medley—“Devil or Angel” (Castellino shone on the lead), “Earth Angel” (Tatar charming on the lead), “Only You” (Holdridge perfection on the high notes) and “I Only Have Eyes for You” (Lois haunting on lead as she musically confesses her love for Skip); and “A Sunday Kind of Love” (Skip’s heartfelt rendition of this lesser known song made all the girls wish they could be his), to name a few. Kudos go to musical arrangers Roger Bean, Jon Newton and Steve Parsons. The Dance Martino’s inventive choreography was such fun to watch and with 25 songs, most of which had dance moves, it must’ve been an enjoyable challenge! The Rest Bean’s script had many genuinely funny lines and character bits, superbly delivered and performed by the cast. Tom Buderwitz created another gem of a set in the Midwest era basement. Shon Leblanc’s costumes, especially Lois’ dresses and the “bowling shirts” were almost too true to period. And the sound design by Cricket S. Myers and lighting design by Luke Moyer did much to enhance the ambiance.


Life Could Be a Dream By Les Spindle August 2009

Producers David Elzer and Peter Schneider formed a serendipitous team when they collaborated with writerdirector Roger Bean to present his zesty girl group musical The Marvelous Wonderettes locally in 2006. The award-winning production ran for a year and a half here and then moved to off-Broadway, where it’s still going strong. Now this creative trio reteams to bring us Bean’s latest jukebox tuner, which skillfully wraps a captivating story around 30 or so golden-oldie tunes from the bee-bop heyday of the 1960s. Backed by the efforts of a smashing cast, a dream design team and the creative moxie of choreographer Lee Martino and musical director Michael Paternostro, Bean delivers a blissfully enjoyable piece of fluff that pulsates with divine chart topping tunes from yesteryear. This giddy new show is set in the same place and roughly the same era as Wonderettes—the fictional suburban berg, Springfield, in the 1960s. The Wonderettes’ quartet of campus cuties is replaced here by a guy group of graduates, hoping to win the big prize in a talent contest sponsored by a local radio station. When egocentric slacker Denny (Daniel Tatar), geeky soda-jerk Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and rascally church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) form a trio to enter the contest, they must impress vivacious Lois (Jessica Keenan

Wynn), who can hopefully persuade her father, a local proprietor, to sponsor their effort. But just as Lois insists that quartets are in vogue, in walks dreamy Skip (Doug Carpenter), a leather-jacketed grease monkey who works for her father. Though the boys initially compete for Lois’ affections, it soon becomes apparent that it’s Skip who sets her heart aflutter. This effervescent cast has a field day in an exhilarating array of solos, duets and doo-wop group numbers. Carpenter’s baritone voice is sensational and his acting comes into its own in this breakthrough role. His soulful romantic warbling is irresistible, and he shakes, rattles and rolls with a genuine Presley flourish. Wynn, also a splendid singer, harmonizes terrifically with Carpenter in “Unchained Melody” and creates sparks on her own in “Lonely Teardrops.” Tatar (noted for local star turns in such shows as Kiss of the Spider Woman) sings and dances up a storm in such numbers as “Who Put the Bomp?” Holdridge’s sublime physical-comedy prowess is especially evident in “Tears On My Pillow,” which he turns from a classic tearjerker into a sidesplitting tourde-force. The delightful cut-up Castellino enjoys his finest moment in the lovely vintage ballad “The Glory of Love.” Don’t be surprised if this delectable production is still running in 2011. That old Wonderettes magic is back with a vengeance.


Gerri Garner’s Entertainment File Kaleidascope Radio Magazine: KCLA, KLAS, KPRO-AM, KMAX-AM

Life Could Be a Dream By Gerri Garner August 13, 2009

Life Could Be a Dream, a fabulous musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), is a charming and affectionate recreation of those really less troubled times in 1960. It takes place in a town called Springfield. (Every state in the union has a town named Springfield; even the Simpsons live in a town named Springfield.) When I walked in, I recognized the beautiful basement set by Tom Buderwitz. I spent many years in that almost exact replica of my girlfriend’s basement. We didn’t sing down there, but we certainly danced. The story centers on a local radio station that is sponsoring a contest searching for the best doo-wop group. The prize will be a recording contract and a tour. Denny (Daniel Tatar), who doesn’t have a job, is convinced he will win and he will get fame and fortune. He gets his nerdish, life-long friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and choirboy singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join the group. They do not have the fifty-dollar entrance fee for the contest. To get a sponsor to provide the money, they go to the owner of a local auto chain, who sends his top mechanic, handsome, sexy Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his charming redheaded daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to check the guys and their ability. Well, Skip gets recruited into the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. Terrific ensemble work by all five, with innovative choreography by Lee Martino, and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, designed to incorporate the hit songs of that era, from the silly “Sh-Boom” and “Rama Lama Ding Dong” to fabulous ballads like “Earth Angel,” “Unchained Melody,” “The Great Pretender” and “The Glory of Love.” Shon LeBlanc’s costumes are outstanding, and even funny at times. This is a hell of a lot of fun and a good time will be had by all. It is our critic’s pick. I encourage you to take your kids—they will love it.


Nostalgic dreamers: Life Could Be a Dream at Hudson Mainstage Theatre By Don Grigware August 10, 2009

Roger Bean’s current off-Broadway nostalgic musical hit The Marvelous Wonderettes with ‘60s female rock group classics performed in the style of an intimate concert could very easily be considered the female counterpart of the long-running all-male musical giant Forever Plaid. Bean has wisely changed formats in creating Life Could Be a Dream, his world premiere male version of The Wonderettes. On the heels of the international success of Mama Mia, he has concocted, not a revue, but a more traditional book-type musical play in which the various ‘60s rock songs are cleverly utilized to advance the plot. To take but one example, a nagging mother complains about her loafing son and then, imitating her, he bursts into song with “Get a Job”. It’s heavenly to hear such golden oldies played out within a brand new story context—from an era we’ve lived through and can relate to on levels of joy and anxiety. It’s the story of an all-boy singing group out to win a radio contest. The smart and inspired incorporation of a beautiful female sponsor and coach (Jessica Keenan Wynn) and an Elvis-like Adonis from the wrong side of the tracks (Doug Carpenter) to magically give the group its 4th singer works wonders in magnifying audience appeal. Inside out, from top to bottom, Life Could Be a Dream is a winner. The entire cast is magnetic. Like the boys in Plaid, there are distinct characters that Bean, for guaranteed comic effect, plays out to the extreme. The most obvious is the nerdy and awkward Eugene played to the hilt by versatile Jim Holdridge. To give Eugene a romantic edge with Lois (Wynn) because of a past flirtation is nothing short of comic genius. It works dynamically, all the boys fall madly in lust for her, and this element keeps the

audience in stitches for a very long space of time. Then there’s the leader, the dreamer Denny played solidly by Daniel Tatar. His name must go before everyone else’s, until Skip (Carpenter) shows up. Of course, there’s the dutiful choirboy Wally—a religious boy meant so very much back in the ‘60s—played beautifully by Ryan Castellino. He receives the least comedic attention of the mix but stands apart with his lilting voice. Carpenter as Skip is a forceful leading man that dominates the stage when he’s on, as did Robert Goulet in the ‘60s. Skip’s backstory becomes poignant and tender, especially with Lois’ loving attention. Not enough praise can be given the stunning Wynn whose true beauty shines from within. There are some vibrant musical arrangements by Bean and Jon Newton, like “Tears On My Pillow,” “The Wanderer,” “The Great Pretender,” “Duke of Earl” and a glorious “angel” medley. The boys shimmy, shake and do all the right bodily moves thanks to choreographer extraordinaire Lee Martino. Ever reliable Michael Paternostro serves as musical director. Basement set by Tom Buderwitz with a staircase, partial laundry room and cluttered memorabilia is period perfection, as are Shon LeBlanc’s costumes. Loved those blue (leopard paneled) bowling shirts and the finale in black and leopard. Leopard is in! Bean’s direction is tight and his script, playfully cute. Listen for the ‘60s take on superglue! This little show is heaven-sent and will run everywhere for many years to come—and may even beat out that...aforementioned classic... Does it really matter? There’s always room for nostalgia well done and, as served up here, Life’s to live for.


Life Could Be a Dream at Hudson Mainstage By F. Kathleen Foley August 13, 2009

Roger Bean, writer/director of the long-running musical The Marvelous Wonderettes, now playing off-Broadway, is back in town with his newest entertainment, Life Could Be a Dream, at the Hudson Mainstage. If you’re in the mood for Eugene O’Neill, give this show a pass. However, if you want unapologetically escapist entertainment, superbly rendered in every particular, this is your ticket. Dream is so frothy, it floats. Like Wonderettes, Dream features a small cast of lovable characters who group together under a flimsy but serviceable pretext to bop their hearts out and sing vintage rock ‘n’ roll standards in heavenly harmony. Set in 1960, Dream employs the familiar “Let’s put on a show”

scenario to fuel the fun. Denny (Daniel Tatar), a brash loser with a big ego, teams with his nudnik buddy Eugene (Jim Holdridge) to compete in a radio-sponsored talent contest for a one-year recording contract. The duo soon becomes a quartet that includes Wally (Ryan Castellino), a sweet preacher’s son, and Skip (Doug Carpenter), a sexy grease monkey from the wrong side of the tracks. When beautiful Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), daughter of their wealthy sponsor, takes over as the boys’ rehearsal coach, romantic entanglements follow. Does true love prevail? Natch. Do our heroes achieve their dream? You betcha. Does this jukebox musical deliver value for your nickel? Without a doubt. Tom Buderwitz’s delightful basement set is perfectly in period,

as are Shon LeBlanc’s authentic costumes. Luke Moyer’s lighting adds extra oomph to the torch numbers, and Cricket S. Myers’ sound design is unobtrusively precise. Bean smoothly stages his own work, but he has many hands to thank for this production. Bean collaborated with Jon Newton on the terrific musical arrangements (Steve Parsons contributed additional arrangements and orchestrations) and Michael Paternostro, who is shaping up to be one of the best musical directors in town, elicits heavenly harmonies from his powerhouse cast. As for the performers, they are uniformly, well…dreamy. See them while you can.


Rules for success from Life Could Be a Dream

The creators of the doo-wop musical capitalize on their Marvelous Wonderettes experience. By Charlotte Stoudt May 2, 2010

Derek Keeling is nervous. His girlfriend, actress Brandi Burkhardt, will be in the audience for tonight’s performance of Life Could Be a Dream, Roger Bean’s long-running doo-wop musical. He wouldn’t let her come to his opening night—but that was months ago. This is the 157th performance of Dream. With their four-part harmonies, sharp choreography and prescription strength nostalgia, Dream and its sister show, The Marvelous Wonderettes, make for a genuine L.A. theater phenomenon: a homegrown hit franchise, created in a 99-seat space with Equity actors, at a time when most theaters are just trying to keep their doors open. Extended again at the Hudson Theatre through May 23, Dream has also been announced as part of Laguna Playhouse’s upcoming season, opening July 10; if the Hollywood venue continues to sell, there will be two productions running simultaneously. All this after the show won LA Weekly’s musical of the year, Backstage Garland’s production of the year, and swept the LA Drama Critics Circle Awards for production, ensemble, lighting and musical direction. Still, Keeling, who plays Skip, a grease monkey from the wrong side of town, is interested in only one particular critic as the stage manager calls places. The house darkens, and the lights come up on a campy

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1950s basement where goof-off Denny (Jeff Leatherwood) and geek Eugene (Michael J. Willett) listen to a radio announcement about a talent contest. The two break into “ShBoom (Life Could Be a Dream)” less than 60 seconds into the show. It’s sweet and incredibly precise, a little like the rules Bean and his producers, David Elzer and Peter Schneider, have followed to extend their doo-wop brand. Story matters—in the music, that is Most jukebox musicals celebrate a particular group or songwriters (Jersey Boys, Smokey Joe’s Café, Dinah Was), but Dream’s playlist samples an era’s overall style: “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “Earth Angel,” “The Great Pretender,” “Who Put the Bomp?,” “Tears on My Pillow.” Bean calls these ‘50s hits “little one-acts in themselves. They tell a story. Current pop music is more about production or sampling. That can be enjoyable, but it’s not the same.” Bean’s approach is to take all these song-stories and weave a larger one around them; the dialogue can be compressed so that the audience never has to wait long for the next musical number. Produce a similar hit show first… Bean and producer David Elzer’s previous collaboration, The Marvelous Wonderettes, was about a late ‘50s female song leader squad;

the show ran for almost two years at the El Portal before moving to off-Broadway. From Wonderettes, Elzer says, he acquired “the skillset one needs for a long-running show.” Actors cycle in and out of the show constantly. “There was one performance of Wonderettes—my stomach churns just thinking about it—when we had four understudies go on,” he says with a groan. “Somebody had to get on stage and say, ‘At tonight’s performance, all four roles…’” Keeping up with the current “Wonderettes” is like an exercise in air traffic control. The show reopened two weeks ago at Musical Theatre West for a three-week run in the 1,100-seat space (with three of the original cast members). After that it moves to Orange County and then to San Jose Rep. There are other scheduled productions in Chicago and half a dozen other cities. …but be ruthless about your new product “If a song didn’t move the story along,” says Elzer, “we cut it.” Bean gives notes regularly and is still tinkering with the script. “It’s hard to see the show because I always want to fix something,” he says with a sigh. Make difficult material look easy Dream couldn’t be simpler: a talent contest plot meets the starcrossed love story of strapping Skip (continued)


Rules for success from Life Could Be a Dream

The creators of the doo-wop musical capitalize on their Marvelous Wonderettes experience. By Charlotte Stoudt May 2, 2010

(Keeling) and his boss’ daughter Lois, played by the porcelainskinned Jessica Keenan Wynn. But the evening’s real star is the intricate harmonic pleasures of doo-wop, which by design doesn’t privilege one singer over another. (Bean credits musical director Michael Paternostro for creating the show’s distinctive sound.) “Roger writes ensemble shows,” says Bets Malone, an original Wonderette. “Everyone’s passing a basketball all night. The focus is constantly switching. Sometimes you’ll come up with a new bit; then Roger comes in and says, ‘That’s brilliant, but I’m looking at you when I should be looking at her. So take it out.’” Malone calls the singing in Wonderettes “more difficult than Evita. We had some amazing singers audition, but they couldn’t hold harmony parts. If it’s all going well, the actors are functioning as musical instruments.” Cast opposites who attract Keeling grew up in the hills of West Virginia; Wynn is from Hollywood royalty. He’s starred on Broadway and network television, she just graduated from UCLA. He was an athlete in high school who took dance lessons in secret, while Wynn’s showbiz debut came at age 6 months, when she played a baby abandoned at a party on Golden Girls. “I still get residuals,” she says with a laugh.

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After that, her family (including grandfather Keenan Wynn, who appeared in scores of films from Kiss Me, Kate to Point Blank) decided it was a bit too soon to put her on the acting treadmill, and Wynn came back to the business through singing at summer camp. She applied to UCLA’s Musical Theatre Program three times before she got in. Keeling got his Broadway break from appearing in NBC’s reality talent contest Grease: You’re the One That I Want!, calling it “the best and worst thing I’ve ever done in my life. For five months I was stuck in a house with six other guys who wanted to play Danny Zuko. The camera’s in your face 24 hours a day. The pressure is crazy. You’ll cry over anything. I remember bursting into tears when someone broke one of my CDs.” Sell small as a positive Elzer hasn’t been in a hurry to move Dream to a bigger venue. His reasoning, typically, is both aesthetic and commercial. “My greatest L.A. theater experiences have been in 99seat spaces,” he says. “I love that an audience walks into a smaller space and is amazed at the quality of what they’re seeing. And I’d rather sell a 99-seat space for a year than a 300seat venue for two or three months. Regional theaters start to notice. New York notices. Every time you announce an extension, a producer from another city shows up.”

Ask your mentor for help After a successful run as a marketing executive at Columbia and Trimark, Elzer felt his love for theater creeping back in. “For some reason, Jonathan Larson’s [the creator of Rent] death really struck me. I thought, ‘What do I want my life to be about?’” What started as a single publicity gig to promote The Lion King in L.A. has now grown into a thriving business (Demand PR) and a burgeoning producing career (Elzer also produced Jewtopia and last season’s deliciously overripe Dracula at NoHo Arts Center). On King, he met Peter Schneider, then president of animation and theatricals at Disney. Years later, when Elzer saw an early version of Wonderettes at Hermosa Beach Playhouse, he thought of Schneider. “Instinctively, I felt this could be the next Forever Plaid franchise. I went to Peter and asked if he might be interested. He said, ‘David, if you think you can sell it, I’m in.’ I said, ‘Don’t you want to read it?’ He said, ‘No, I trust you.’” Follow your dream Keeling’s real ambition was outed at a high school baseball game back in West Virginia. “I was in the outfield and started practicing dance steps without thinking. My dad was in the stands with his racing buddies. He was like, ‘What is that boy doing?’ After that I had to come clean.” (continued)


Rules for success from Life Could Be a Dream

The creators of the doo-wop musical capitalize on their Marvelous Wonderettes experience. By Charlotte Stoudt May 2, 2010

Keeling came to L.A. with Burkhardt for film and television work and took persuading to come back to the stage, especially to do a period piece. After all, he’s played Danny Zuko more than 1,000 times. But he’s fallen back in love with theater. “This is my dad’s music,” he says. “We listened to it on the way to drag races. I grew up with it. So that really makes it a pleasure to sing.” Wynn sounds like Lois when she enthuses about life after graduation. “I never imagined this would happen to me. Nine months out of school and I’m hosting the LA

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Weekly Awards?” She’s also been workshopping a Disney Villains project with [title of show] creators Hunter Bell and Jeff Bowen. “A gentleman came up to me after a show the other day and told me he used to ride motorcycles with my grandfather,” says Wynn. “To have a stranger come up and share part of the family history I didn’t know tells me I’m doing the right thing. I really want to carry on their name.” The show ends, and the audience buzzes around the theater’s cafe. Keeling looks for Burkhardt. He

first saw her onstage in Reprise’s Li’l Abner in 2008 but was too intimidated to talk to her. They met about a year later while both working on Broadway. Burkhardt’s verdict? “Derek has a natural way with music and styles of the ‘50s, which makes him just look effortless. I love what he does with ‘The Great Pretender’ and ‘Runaround Sue,’ though my favorite part is when he rips his shirt off.” Another satisfied customer. Roger Bean’s doo-wop empire rolls on.


GO! Life Could Be a Dream By Neal Weaver August 12, 2009

This affectionate doo-wop jukebox musical by writer-director Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes), with clever choreography by Lee Martino, handsome set by Tom Buderwitz and spectacular lighting by Luke Moyer, is designed to incorporate hit songs of the 1960s, ranging from the goofy “Sh-Boom” and “Rama Lama Ding Dong” to anthems like “Earth Angel,” “Unchained Melody,” “The Great Pretender” and “The Glory of Love.” In small-town Springfield, the local radio station is sponsoring a rock-and-roll contest, and go-getter Denny (Daniel Tatar) is convinced he can win and become a star. He enlists his klutzy, nerdish, endearing friend Eugene (Jim Holdridge) and church-choir singer Wally (Ryan Castellino) to join him. Needing a sponsor to provide the $50 entrance fee for the contest, they apply to the proprietor of the local auto chain. He sends his top mechanic, handsome, hunky Skip (Doug Carpenter), and his pretty daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), to audition the guys, and by the end they’re incorporated in the new group, Denny and the Dreamers. This is pure fluff, and the terrific ensemble makes every note count in this rousing good-time musical.


Life a nostalgic Dream at Playhouse By Tom Titus July 16, 2010

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. 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 heartbreaktinged “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. One of the highlights, and there are many, arrives midway through the first act when each of the original three declares his affection for Wynn’s character with “Devil or Angel” (Castellino), “Earth Angel” (Tatar) and “Only You” (Holdridge). She responds by declaring “I Only Have Eyes for You” (“You” being Carpenter’s borderline bad boy). Tom Buderwitz’s basement setting serves the show perfectly, as does Shon LeBlanc’s costumes and Luke Moyer’s light effects. Choreographer Lee Martino and musical director Michael Paternostro provide particularly impressive support as the performers gradually develop their styles and mesh into a terrific ensemble. You don’t have to actually remember these songs to get an enormous kick out of the show, though it certainly helps. Discovering them for the first time will serve as an inventive history lesson as to what the ‘50s were all about, musically.


Life Could Be a Dream charms at Laguna Playhouse By Michael L. Quintos July 19, 2010

It’s safe to say that Roger Bean—the mind behind The Andrews Brothers, The Marvelous Wonderettes and its yuletide sequel Winter Wonderettes—has certainly become the most consistently successful purveyor of full-scale theatrical musicals that weave a simple story around a string of early to mid-20th Century pop hits. His latest of such offerings is Life Could Be a Dream, the crowd-pleasing jukebox musical that debuted last year at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood and is now performing an eight-week engagement at the Laguna Playhouse through August 29. The original production garnered the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award and Backstage’s 2010 Garland Award for Best Production. Nostalgia wrapped in charm and familiarity is a Roger Bean musical’s raison d’etre, and in this 1960set stage show, we get plenty of both. Directed by Bean himself, the show’s story—a slightly more complex plot than the Wonderettes shows—takes place entirely within a span of a week in the authentically kitsch-decorated basement of Denny (Daniel Tatar), a young man with huge dreams of stardom, but is without a steady paycheck (a recurring fact we are reminded about by Denny’s unseen mother via intercom). Denny was once a member of the Crooning Crabcakes, the musical group that was banned from performing at small town Springfield’s local high school prom (the same prom that the Wonderettes stepped in to perform for as the Crabcakes’ last-minute replacement). After hearing about a radio contest for the best local singing groups, Denny convinces his former fellow crooners to reunite for one more shot at fame (and, hopefully, fortune). Besides Denny, the newly formed boy group now called “The Dreamers” consists of the smart but socially awkward Eugene (scene-stealer Jim Holdridge), the reliable Minister’s son Wally (Ryan Castellino), and the newly-recruited brooding mechanic Skip (Doug Carpenter). Feeling that they need all the help they can get, they also enlist the assistance of Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), the daughter of the owner of the local car repair garage. Originally sent to critique the group on

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whether it was worthy of the garage’s sponsorship in the contest, she soon coaches the men better dance moves and better ways to deal with the female of the species. While Eugene, Wally (somewhat), and Denny all have affections for Lois, it is actually the handsome diamondin-the-rough Skip that has won her heart, much to the disdain of her father. Will the group pull it together in time to win the contest with all this inner drama taking over? Suffice it to say, it’s not that hard to come to the right conclusion. The hit songs are, as expected, the familiar draws for the show. Classics like the title song, “Stay,” “Runaround Sue,” “Tears On My Pillow,” “Unchained Melody,” “Earth Angel,” “The Glory of Love,” “Duke of Earl” and “Lonely Teardrops” are intertwined to match plot points in the story, which, somewhat unlike the Wonderettes’ use of the classic pop catalog, is a departure that allows for story context to primarily dictate the songs being sung by the characters. Instead of the Wonderettes’ arbitrary (albeit fun) unloading of song-after-song as part of a concert setting, the songs used in Life Could Be a Dream extend the characters’ situations and feelings as a musical punctuation to the predictable yet easily digestible story. There are a lot of cute-sy, old-fashioned, ‘50s sitcom-like traits in the show, which here are often used go-to devices that mine the audience for easy laughs—but the laughs do come, nonetheless. In a smart move, the five original cast members from the popular L.A. world premiere have all returned to reprise their same roles in the Laguna Playhouse production. Each actor turns in a fine performance that balances humor, glimpses of inner pathos and terrific singing with equal concentration. Once again, the endearing Holdridge turns in a noteworthy performance, a wonderful addition to his equally amazing turn as Tobias in Musical Theatre West’s excellent production of Sweeney Todd. The smoldering Carpenter continues his brooding skills once more here as he did as Lancelot in the final Pasadena Playhouse production Camelot. I predict an exciting future for this (continued)


Life Could Be a Dream charms at Laguna Playhouse By Michael L. Quintos July 19, 2010

excellent, strong vocalist. While it would have been preferable to feature more stage-time for the boys—in a show blatantly marketed as a boy-centric Wonderettes— Wynn provides a nice female contrast with her beautiful voice and ethereal stage presence. Lead Dreamer Tatar (who also serves as the show’s dance captain) and sideline player Castellino are also quite good. Though his acting seems a bit too affected at times, Castellino, in particular, does an overall great job of giving his character a few noticeable less-masculine mannerisms that hint at a richer backstory (visions of Sal Mineo dance in Wally’s head, perhaps). All in all, the commendable Life Could Be a Dream is a nice, sweetly confectionary musical that’s chock-full of enjoyable, familiar tunes from yesteryear, performed by a quintet of great singer-actors. In the high heat of summertime, nostalgia-hungry patrons roaming the Festival of Arts in Laguna Beach will have one more reason (aside from the annual Pageant of the Masters) to stick around the area for some good, old-fashioned fun.

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Doo-wop tunes keep Dream sweet By Elaine Schmidt September 10, 2007

Doo-wop is the musical time stamp of the late 1950s and early ‘60s. For Roger Bean, creator and director of the Life Could Be a Dream musical comedy that opened at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stackner Cabaret over the weekend, the distinctive, infectious sound of doo-wop is the basis for a frothy romp through nearly two dozen classic tunes. Bean’s show strings the songs together with the story of a group of friends hanging out in a basement rec room and dreaming of winning a local singing contest. Three never-been-kissed, desperate-to-be-hip schlemiels, and

one young man who’s dating the girl the other three are mooning over, begin rehearsing to win the contest. As the show unfolds, they tell their stories through songs, including “Tears On My Pillow,” “Mama Don’t Allow It” and “Get a Job.” The show is largely engaging, quick-moving and fun. Part of its humor lies in such innocent, nerdy guys singing soulful songs of love and heartbreak without a clue about the experiences they’re relating. Singer-actors Ben Cherry, Richard Israel, Carlos Martin and Justin Robertson, build unique, likable characters and handle the songs’ solos, particularly the uptempo numbers, with character and

humor. They make the characteristic vocal harmonies of the doo-wop tunes sound easy and fun to sing. Two of the singers take turns at bass lines. Whether from a lack of vocal power or an amplification shortcoming, neither of them muster the power those low lines need. Julia Graham plays Lois, the girl of everyone’s affection, and the voice of Mrs. Varney, which is heard only through an intercom to the house’s uppers floors. Pam Kriger’s choreography places the songs squarely in their era and gives the characters lots of fodder for comedic bits.


Dream takes edge off dreary times By Paul Hodgins July 7, 2010

Nothing’s going right these days. The bad economy and the oil spill threaten to linger forever. In other words, it’s the perfect time for a big dose of Roger Bean. Bean is the light-comic master who created The Marvelous Wonderettes, an enjoyable trifle of a musical about a girl group that overcomes its travails to breathe new life into classic (and not so classic) 1950s and early ‘60s pop songs. It was a hit in Los Angeles before coming to the Laguna Playhouse for a successful run and subsequently making its mark off-Broadway. Life Could Be a Dream, which opened Saturday at the Laguna Playhouse, is a Wonderettes male companion piece. Skip, Wally, Eugene and Denny are the girls’ musical doppelgangers, delivering skillful close-harmony renditions of such midcentury classics as “Get a Job,” “Runaround Sue,” The Wanderer,” “Earth Angel,” “I Only Have Eyes for You” and “Unchained Melody.” The action even takes place in the same anonymous Middle American town, Springfield, where the Wonderettes live. Denny is a former member of the Crooning Crabcakes, a group that plays a small but crucial plot role in Wonderettes. Structurally, though, Life Could Be a Dream is more ambitious than Wonderettes, which is both a good and a bad thing. We meet the Wonderettes in

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casual hometown concerts at two dramatically different points in the girls’ lives. Everything that transpires happens in the course of those performances. Life has a more involved plot, which allows Bean to go the jukebox musical route of pairing the themes and lyrics of many songs to the story. As with Mamma Mia and other examples of the genre, sometimes this technique works better than others. It’s 1960. Denny (Daniel Tatar), an unemployed young man still living with his parents, wants to form a singing duo with his nerdy pal Eugene (Jim Holdridge) to win a talent contest sponsored by a local disc jockey. They enlist the help of their friend Wally (Ryan Castellino), a minister’s son who knows someone who might front the $50 entry fee and sponsor the group. The sponsor, who owns a local garage, sends his comely daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn) to evaluate the trio. His best mechanic, Skip (Doug Carpenter), tags along. After some discussion and a little arm-twisting, a reluctant Skip is persuaded to join the group and Lois coaches the quartet, smoothing the rough edges. But love complicates matters. All four boys are gaga over Lois, and she has fallen hard for Skip. But he’s from the wrong side of the

tracks, and Lois’ class-conscious father is outraged when he finds out about the romance. Will Skip and Lois find a way to be together? Will the group win the contest? Will there be any sitcomish moments involving sexual tension, teen angst or underwear? If predictability is a deal breaker, this isn’t your show. The plot of Life Could Be a Dream is strictly by the numbers, and some characters— Denny in particular—are so thinly written that the performers have trouble breaking free of musical comedy caricature. But complaining too loud about such shortcomings seems contrary to the spirit of the feel-good musical. Life Could Be a Dream is nice, clean, inoffensive fun—and I’ve heard there’s a market for that, especially in the summer. Besides, there’s plenty of craft in Bean’s creation. At their best, the songs seem so inevitable and deftly woven into the action that the audience “oohs” in recognition of Bean’s cleverness. The cast members come straight from the long-running Los Angeles production, and they wear their characters like a second skin. Holdridge has developed some delicious nonverbal comic moments—stares, hesitations, reactions—and he gets more laughs from the word “underwear” than any actor has a right to. (continued)


Dream takes edge off dreary times By Paul Hodgins July 7, 2010

Castellino has found ways to hint at Wally’s deeper yearnings between the lines. Tatar has the biggest challenge with Denny, the least developed character, but he’s confident with a song and delivers choreographer Lee Martino’s period perfect moves with verve and sharpness. Carpenter, the bass of the group, under delivers at times as Skip. There’s not enough underlying heartthrob to his character—a crucial ingredient if Lois’ attraction is to seem real. But he knows how to headline a big number. Wynn is the best reason to see this production. Fresh-faced and

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pure of voice, the young redhead has the requisite tools to be a musical theater star: She knows how to hold a moment, and she can seem simultaneously available and veiled. She’s a recent UCLA graduate but already exudes the smooth confidence of a veteran. Bean directs, and the show moves at almost breakneck speed— not always to its benefit. Some comic moments seem a tad rushed, as if overfamiliarity has caused Bean and his performers to lose the sense of timing necessary for the payoff. Mostly, though, the approach matches the dynamic demands of the material.

Tom Buderwitz’s detailed set—the basement recreation room of Denny’s family home—is a convincing slice of Eisenhowerera America, right down to the checkered linoleum floor. Life Could Be a Dream is of a piece with other recent offerings at the playhouse: crowd-pleasing, values-affirming and not too demanding. But given the general dreariness of things in the dog days of 2010, an escape to a more innocent time, complete with hummable tunes and cute kids, might be just the ticket for some.


Mood music for a volatile decade By Cynthia Citron August 2009

So there’s this radio DJ who is running a contest to find the best new musical talent in town. Doo-wop doo-wop doo-wop. Then there’s Denny (the cute one) and his buddy Eugene (the nerd) practicing their moves in Denny’s basement. Then they add Wally (the choirboy) because he can raise the $50 they need to enter the contest. And finally, there’s Skip (the hunky garage mechanic) who wanders in from the “wrong side of town.” And sh-boom, you’ve got a singing quartet! And you also have one of the most delicious new musicals to hit the stage since The Marvelous Wonderettes. Roger Bean, who created and directed the Wonderettes is also the writer and director of this 1960s pop retrospective, Life Could Be A Dream. And, like the female quartet in Wonderettes, the four male singers in this show are sensational, at least as good (or better) than their 1960 counterparts, the Four Tops, the Monkees, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, Gerry and the Pacemakers, et al. The current quartet consists of Doug Carpenter as Skip, Ryan

Castellino as Wally, Jim Holdridge (a Jerry Lewis look-alike) as Eugene and Daniel Tatar as Denny. Together they call themselves “Denny and the Dreamers.” There is also a female love interest, a spectacular singer named Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn), who is there ostensibly to help them with their moves and dance routines. (The show’s actual choreographer is Lee Martino, who keeps the group bouncing non-stop for nearly two hours with undiminished energy and enthusiasm.) The songs themselves are so well integrated into the plot that it’s hard to tell which came first. Did Musical Arrangers Roger Bean, Jon Newton and Steve Parsons, and Musical Director Michael Paternostro choose the songs and then script the play around them, or did they select songs to go with the lively and predictable plot? Among the more recognizable hits of the more than two dozen the group performs are “Sh-Boom,” “The Wanderer,” “Earth Angel,” “Only You,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” “Sunday Kind of Love,”

“Unchained Melody,” “The Great Pretender” and “The Glory of Love.” There are also a number of wonderful songs that you may not recognize or remember, and those are fun to be reintroduced to as well. While veteran sound designer Cricket S. Myers has overmiked everyone just a little bit and lighting designer Luke Moyer sometimes has a little trouble keeping up with the bouncing players, these are minor cavils. Tom Buderwitz’ tacky, cluttered basement set is spot-on perfect, as are Shon LeBlanc’s multiple costume changes. And like the Wonderettes, there’s no doubt this show will play here forever and then go on to become a big hit in New York. Co-producer David Elzer, who also produced the Wonderettes, was standing by the exit greeting the members of the audience as they filed out. (It was a fully packed house.) I said to him, “My god, David, where did you find these guys?” To which he replied, with an exhausted smile, “We held a lot of auditions!” Rama lama ding dong.


Mood music for a volatile decade By Sharon Perlmutter September 9, 2009

If you’re going to do a jukebox musical, you can do a lot worse than taking music from an actual jukebox. With Life Could Be a Dream, the folks who had a hit with The Marvelous Wonderettes return to the jukebox for another musical comprised of 25 classics. But writer Roger Bean has tweaked the formula a bit, getting away from the “prom concert” framework and putting together a bit more of a book for the show. To be fair, the plot is paper thin—but no thinner than, say, a bride-to-be trying to find out which of three men is her father so he can walk her down the aisle. Life Could Be a Dream is a “making the band” story. It starts with Denny and his friend Eugene, learning about a radio contest for a fresh new sound, and deciding in Denny’s basement (great 1950s design by Tom Buderwitz) to try their luck. Daniel Tatar plays Denny, the lead singer (he doesn’t care what the band is called, as long as it starts with “Denny and the…”). Tatar’s voice is strong, and he gyrates in that brilliantly unselfconscious way one only does when singing into a broom handle in one’s basement. (At the performance reviewed, he was egged on by some approving

shouts from women in the audience.) Eugene, played by Jim Holdridge, is pretty much what you’d expect from a Eugene—geeky, glasses-wearing, painfully unathletic and often on the wrong foot with the choreography. But he sings well, and when Eugene sings “Tears On My Pillow” in front of a girl who broke his heart in fifth grade, Holdridge manages to combine pathos and humor. Denny and Eugene meet various challenges in preparing for the contest: Denny’s mom wants him to “Get a Job”; their friend Wally (Ryan Castellino, the sensitive one) wants to join the group; they need to find a sponsor to pay the $50 entrance fee; their sponsor requires them to add a fourth member (Doug Carpenter as Skip, the tough guy); and so forth. And soon, “Denny and the Dreamers” are born. But there’s a bit more to it than that—more challenges the group has to overcome. Skip is tall, goodlooking and a better lead singer than Denny—something that does not go down at all well with Denny. The sponsor’s daughter Lois (a sweetvoiced Jessica Keenan Wynn) sends three of the guys’ hearts a-flutter, but she “Only Has Eyes for” the fourth. And what makes it all work— perhaps better than The Marvelous

Wonderettes—is that nearly every song serves a purpose. It may be a jukebox musical, but the numbers aren’t interchangeable. Sure, there are a couple of flat-out performance pieces when the guys rehearse, but most of the songs fit particular characters and what they are feeling at the moment. And because of that, we care—we want the conflicts among the guys to be resolved; we want the group to win the talent contest; and we want the lovers to end up together. And because we’re engaged, the whole thing is an awful lot of fun. Well, no. It’s not a lot of fun just because we’re engaged; it’s a lot of fun because the doo-wop music is infectious, the guys harmonize beautifully, choreographer Lee Martino has given them great smooth sliding dance steps and, perhaps most importantly, Roger Bean, Jon Newton and Steve Parsons have put together some perfect musical arrangements which show off the guys’ talents and, just often enough, reflect the mood of the moment. At times, the performers seem a bit too over-amplified for the small house in which the show is playing, but it’s a small quibble with an otherwise delightful show.


Life Could Be a Dream Press Packet