If you remember the Crew-Cuts, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Dion, and Chubby Checker, you might want to twist over to the Ivoryton Playhouse to hear the cast of the current show sing “Sh-Boom,” Tears On My Pillow,” “Runaround Sue” and “Lonely Teardrops” along with 19 other hits and near-hits from the doo-wop era.
The show is “Life Could Be A Dream” and it’s all about the music. This season Ivoryton has a new musical director, Jason Wetzel, a nice Brooklyn boy, who has an impressive resume to match his impressive talent. As a conductor who also plays first keyboard, he is joined by Victor Perpetua on keyboard 2, Doug Guidone on guitar, Gina Marie Williams on reeds and Mike Conlin on drums and percussion.
Each song is orchestrated to closely match the original, while giving a freshness and lighter feeling to many by having eliminated the shrill saxophone that was predominant in the original recordings. With so much instrumental talent, it’s unfortunate that these five musicians were unseen in the back of the theater, and not given a prominent spot right on the stage. Richard Rogers used musicians onstage throughout his 1962 Broadway musical “No Strings” with great effect.
Roger Bean is credited with having created and written the show, which doesn’t give accomplished director Jacqueline Hubbard too much with which to work. The book is thin and empty of real humor, and only the songs, on which the story depends, give the actors a chance to show off their talents. During the first ten minutes one wonders if the show will ever get off the ground. Fortunately, it does.
The entire action takes place in a dreary basement set – cluttered, lifeless and depressing, where four guys are practicing their singing to attempt to win a radio contest. Enter girl, whose father is a potential sponsor of the boy group “Denny and the Dreamers.” Each member of the quartet is enamored of the young lady, Lois, (Sheila Coyle) but she only has eyes for Skip the hunky mechanic (Evan D. Siegel). Boy finds girl (‘Earth Angel,’ ‘Only You,’ ‘Stay’) boy loses girl (‘Sunday Kind Of Love,’ ‘Lonely Teardrops,’ ‘The Magic Touch’), and boy finds girl again (‘The Glory of Love,’ ‘Pretty Little Angel Eyes’).
Wannabe lead singer Denny (well played and sung by an engaging Aaron Catano) has a running verbal battle via a basement intercom system with his unseen nagging mother. She wants him to ‘Get A Job’ - which he sings as a mocking defiance of his mamma, who feels he is wasting his time singing. The intercom bit wears thin – most nagging mothers during that era would have just yelled down the stairs at their ne’er-do-well kids.
Matt Densky plays Eugene, a whiney nerd with a Frankie Valli voice (“Tears On My Pillow,” "Stay"). This clumsily funny character becomes more emboldened and confident with each scene, as he is more and more integrated into the group. Rob Rodems plays Wally, a dullish church-going momma’s boy, but Rob’s pleasant voice rounds out the quartet with rich and mellow tones.
The girl for whom each of the boys is longing is Lois, and Sheila Coyle plays her with a sweetness that makes it easy to understand why each of the four boys is crazy about her.
When Skip-the-car-mechanic arrives on the scene and joins the singing group the show really takes off. Evan D. Siegel has a stage presence and a voice that immediately lifts the show from near mediocrity to something special. His ‘Sunday Kind Of Love’ is a hauntingly beautiful ballad put across with great longing, and ‘Unchained Melody’ sung with Lois gives his character a depth of feeling not evident from Skip’s rough outward demeanor.
Even though many of the songs integrated into this show were originally sung by African-American groups, credit must be given to the cast and director for not removing the spirit of The Edsels (‘Rama Lama Ding Dong’), Little Anthony, Gene Chandler (‘Duke of Earl’) and the Penguins (‘Earth Angel’).
By the dazzling, fast-paced finale and crowd-pleasing encore, Denny and the Dreamers convince us that the doo-wop era was one that deserves to be preserved. And to the director, Jacqueline Hubbard, the musicians and the singers, we can only quote ABBA by saying “Thank You For The Music.”
If you go:
Where: Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT 06442
When: Now thru Saturday March 30th.
What: “Life Could Be A Dream” a doo-wop musical
Who: A cast of good Actors Equity singer/dancers and great musicians
How: Buy Tickets online at www.ivorytonplayhouse.org, or call