If you liked The Marvelous Wonderettes, you're gonna love Denny and the Dreamers. The guys first surfaced as the Crooning Crabcakes, the boy group banned from the Springfield High School prom, an event that created the opening for The Marvelous Wonderettes to perform in the 2007 musical of that name by Roger Bean.
Now Denny and company are back in their own award-winning musical, 2010's "Life Could Be a Dream," energetically directed by Christopher George Patterson at Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland. The guys' antics add up to just about the most fun you can have fully dressed.
What: "Life Could Be a Dream"
When: Through Aug. 26; performances Wednesday-Monday at 8 p.m., Sunday brunch matinees at 1 p.m. No performance July 4.
Where: Oregon Cabaret Theatre, corner of First and Hargadine in Ashland, one block up the hill from the Ashland Springs Hotel
Tickets: Weekday evenings, $32; Friday-Saturday evenings, $36; Sunday evening, $26; Sunday matinee, $30
Information: Call 541-488-2902 or see www.oregoncabaret.com
It's 1962, and Denny (Kyle Smith) and his pal Eugene (Garrett Deagon) are forming a singing group to enter Big Whopper Radio's contest to win a chance at the big time. One could quibble with the date, because the focus of the music is more mid- and late 1950s doo-wop, when songs such as "Sh Boom," "Devil or Angel," "Earth Angel" and "Only You" had their heyday in a galaxy in the Top 40 universe co-existing with, but separate from, early rock 'n' roll.
Think saddle shoes and white socks. Buddy Holly glasses and geeky chinos, chrome dinette sets and plaid wallpaper. And lots of naivete.
As we join the guys, Denny's mom, a disembodied, nagging voice we never meet in the flesh, comes through the modern marvel of an intercom to the basement rec room where Denny and Eugene are idly hanging out, badgering Denny to get a job. Cue up The Silhouettes' "Get a Job" — those of a certain age may remember the tune that introduced the doo-wop hooks "dip dip dip boom" and "sha na na na" — which features the boys dancing with rag mops.
There is, of course, no time for jobs when you're forming Springfield and the nation's next hot singing group, an enterprise into which Denny and Eugene soon enlist pal Wally (Chris Chiles) and new friend Skip (Devon Stone), a Fonzie-esque dude from the wrong side of the tracks who works as a mechanic for lovely Lois's father, whom the guys are targeting as a potential sponsor.
Lois (Heather Gault) polishes up the group's vocal chops, but things get complicated when all four boys fall in love with her, along with every man in the audience. Will anybody find true love? Do these goofballs have a chance in the Big Contest? If you were in glee club in high school, do you know what it's like to be an outsider?
The plot, of course, serves mainly as a device on which to hang a lot of fine old songs performed with great elan by a super-talented young cast under the direction of the redoubtable Patterson, who is based in New York/New Jersey but seems to be finding a second home in Ashland (OCT-goers will remember him from "A Brief History of White Music," "Five Guys Named Moe" and "Smokey Joe's Cafe").
Asked how he managed to bring together these five young performers — Smith is based in New York City, Deagon is a UC Irvine product who's been working off-Broadway, Chiles is from Ohio and New York City, Stone is from Boston Conservatory and New York City, and Gault is a USC grad with film and TV credits including "BizKid$" and this summer's "In the Night" — he said they jumped at the chance to spend the summer in Oregon working in Ashland.
New York City's loss, our gain. Every one sings like gangbusters. They're not dancers, except for Gault, but Patterson has choreographed a show in which the dancing, while never calling attention to itself, melds with and supports the vocal fireworks. Music is from an orchestral soundtrack by John Taylor, which accompanies the singers karaoke-style.
Some of the highlights include Wally camping it up singing "Tears on my Pillow" to Lois, who broke his heart in third grade; Skip playing greaser stud to the other guys' hapless doofuses in "Runaround Sue" and "The Wanderer"; Eugene belting out a straight-ahead take on Buck Ram's heart-smashing "Only You." Critically, although some of the songs have comic tie-ins to the plot, they are not done as send-ups. Many are done straight, including Skip and Wally's moody take on "Sunday Kind of Love" and the whole gang's lovely, cinematic turn at "Unchained Melody."
The love story takes a surprising turn, the guys get their shot, and just when you think the show couldn't get any better, we move from Denny's basement forward to a big, glitzy stage in Springfield for the climactic mash-up of "Pretty Little Angel Eyes" / "Rama Lama Ding Dong." There's even dancing. Well, that's the story of, that's the glory of, "Life Could Be a Dream." Tickets could be hard to get.
Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.