nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
February 2, 2005
Fun fun fun ‘til Daddy takes the T-bird away.
That’s what the creators of Good Vibrations, the new Beach Boys-inspired musical currently playing at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, want you to have when you see their show. You can tell by the non-stop barrage of energy, smiles, and gyrating flesh they throw at the audience. But, it’s hard at first to know how to feel about this confusing, garish spectacle of a show. Why does Good Vibrations inspire a reaction of utter indifference towards it? My friend who accompanied me to the opening night performance summed it up best: “It’s the kind of show you’d see on a cruise ship,” she said, and added that even though she enjoyed the show, she wouldn’t recommend that anyone pay money to see it.
And, therein lies the problem with Good Vibrations: the creators go all out trying to make it entertaining, but they never try to make it good. There is a difference.
For the record: the plot concerns three teenage boys from an unnamed Eastern town who decide to leave home after high school graduation and drive west to California. Since none of them owns a car, they dupe the local geek girl (who has secretly had a crush on one of the boys her entire life) into chauffeuring them cross country in hers. Once in California, the boys slowly fade into beach bum anonymity while the geek girl transforms into a swan whom everyone wants to date.
Not that the story matters. The creative team crams so many Beach Boys hits into Good Vibrations—33 in all—that book writer Richard Dresser’s efforts to find dramatic justification for most of them fail. Only the ballads “In My Room” and “Warmth of the Sun” work as feasible musical numbers. Good Vibrations also suffers from poor internal logic: any musical as concerned with surfing and warm weather as this one is that doesn’t reach the beach until the end of Act I—and then ends on a snowy night in Central Park—clearly doesn’t make much sense.
Director-choreographer John Carrafa provides undistinguished work here. He’s also hampered by a male ensemble that can neither sing nor dance—all of whom look doubly inept next to a female ensemble that can do both. Point of focus is also a problem: there is so much going on at all times that it’s hard for the audience to know where they should be looking. The rest of Good Vibrations feels random (belly rings and Brian Wilson do not go together) and sloppy (body mike cords cannot be hidden when one is shirtless).
Miraculously, one of the actors comes out of this morass looking good. As geek girl Caroline, Kate Reinders possesses the right loony energy for Good Vibrations. It also helps that she’s the only person on stage that doesn’t look like she’s embarrassed to be there.
Thankfully, composer Brian Wilson’s wonderful songs emerge unscathed. The company’s failure to do his work justice only reflects poorly on them, not him. Anyone seeking the magical, sun-soaked world that is conjured in his melodies, lyrics, and harmonies need look no further than the Beach Boys’ classic 1966 album Pet Sounds, or their definitive best-of Endless Summer. For there is none of that world to be found in Good Vibrations.