If one counts movies, then I have seen dozens of “jukebox musicals.” Sometimes I head for the theatre thinking, “Ahhh…oh boy…yet another jukebox musical.” But when the performers come on and show their stuff, then they can turn some pretty sappy songs from the 1950s and ‘60s into pure gold. And that is just what the terrific cast of International City Theatre’s Life Could Be a Dream pulls off with songs like “Sh-Boom,” “Tears on My Pillow,” “Run Around Sue,” “Duke of Earl” and nineteen other songs, some of which, like “Mama Don’t Allow It” (1929) and “I Only Have Eyes For You” (1934), reach back way further than the 1950s.
Written and created by Roger Bean (The Marvelous Wonderettes, Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and more), the action of Life Could Be a Dream takes place in the basement retreat of recent high school graduate, Denny Varney (Josey Montana McCoy), where he and his friends, Eugene (Hunter Berecochea) and Wally (J. Thomas Miller), are rehearsing as a trio sweetly self-named “Denny and the Dreamers,” in hopes of winning the Big Whopper Radio contest that dangles a one-year recording contract as first prize. The three guys are kinda goofy and kinda loveable, exactly as they should be. They are soon joined by the lovely Lois (Marisa Matthews), who teaches them some slick moves as she renders them lovesick. Handsome, hunky Skip (Trevor Shor), a motorcycle-riding automobile mechanic, shows up and the trio becomes a quartet plus one.
There is plenty of comedy with just enough paper-thin plot to support the singing, which is phenomenal. Whether in tight harmony or solo lines with backup, the loveable cast delivers with extraordinary verve, as they dance in the tightly choreographed movement served up by director/choreographer Jamie Torcellini. It is a kick and a half! And I love it when a singer pops up in perfect falsetto, best exemplified by Mr. Berecochea, who skids to his knees as he delivers a show-stopping, high-note wonder.
There are moments of genuine emotion as well. Mr. Shor and Ms. Matthews deliver a soul-satisfying rendition of “Unchained Melody” that frankly turned me into a puddle. As we got up for intermission, I discovered that I was far from alone as others nearby fluttered handkerchiefs and daubed their eyes. The release of emotion prompted by performance is one of the great gifts of theatre and, of course, the Greeks had a word for it—catharsis.
The cast is well served by music director Bill Wolfe at the piano, Adolfo Kushelevich on guitar and Juan Garcia on drums.
As is de rigueur for International City Theatre, Life Could Be a Dream is handsomely mounted by the creative team that includes set designer Amanda J. Stuart, lighting designer Donny Jackson, costume designer Kim DeShazo, sound designer Dave Mickey, prop designer Patty Briles, and hair and wigs designer Anthony Gagliardi. The production stage manager is Karen Schleifer.
Produced by artistic director caryn desai, the International City Theatre presentation of Life Could Be a Dream continues through March 10 at the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way in Long Beach.