Beach Boys' vibes echo on Broadway

Driftwood fires, first kisses, and young love are sure to come to mind with the new Beach Boys-driven musical "Good Vibrations."

The show harks back to a time when the most soul-searching anyone had to do was about whom to take to the prom.

"What I said to our cast on the first day is 'If we can make people happy for a couple of hours then we're doing a great thing, because things are so serious in the world right now,'" says director John Carrafa. "I can't go fight in Iraq. I feel my talents are best used at making people happy, and I feel like we have a chance to do that here."

Amid a growing number of nostalgic retrospectives aimed at baby boomers, such as the Billy Joel-fueled "Movin' Out," the upcoming Elvis musical "All Shook Up," and a play featuring John Lennon's post-Beatles oeuvre "Lennon," Broadway is quickly becoming a stronghold of family-safe, feel-good entertainment.

Some say it's about time.

After years of accidentally buying tickets to edgy tales of the Lower East Side such as "Avenue Q" and "Rent," tourists visiting Manhattan won't have to worry about explicit lyrics, sexuality, or political discourse packaged as entertainment.

"I think the Republicans are going to love it," says Mr. Carrafa, whose previous credits include "Urinetown" - the antithesis of "Good Vibrations." "They won't have another convention for a while but I could imagine 'Good Vibrations' being a show they would love. The Beach Boys and 'California Girls' are classic Americana."

While a Broadway revue featuring some of the most popular songs of all time would seem like a no-brainer, the challenge was coming up with a compelling yarn that would connect the dots between songs.

"We're telling a story about some kids who buy into the dream of what the music is about, that California dream," Carrafa says. "As the character Bobby says at the beginning: 'Once upon a time there was a place called California ... we all wanted to go there,' and this play is about what happens when you get your dream."

The handsome cast of teeny boppers want to go to the dance, fall in love, and borrow the car, a catalogue of longing nearly every American can identify with.

"The Beach Boys songs are really carefree but there are two sides to the music," explains Carrafa. "There's 'Fun, Fun, Fun,' and 'Be True To Your School,' 'Deuce Coupe,' and 'I Get Around,' but then three or four years later Brian Wilson wrote the album 'Pet Sounds,' which had 'I Just Wasn't Made For These Times,' and a lot of much deeper, emotionally resonant songs, so our story does go to a really deep and heartfelt place by the end."

The question is, will "Good Vibrations" play to the cynical iPod generation tagging along on the family's trip to Manhattan? After all, most successful entertainments for teens and preteens - such as the film "Shrek 2" and TV shows such as "The O.C." and "Life As We Know It" - seem to include a healthy dose of self-awareness and irony.

"This music is transgenerational, which is one of the appeals of the show," says David Larsen, who leads the cast and is in his 20s. "If you're a fan of hip-hop, you have an appreciation for the lyric, and if you listen to Brian Wilson's music, the emotional depth of the lyrics as well as the melodic changes are something people should be able to appreciate," no matter what kind of music they listen to.

Costar Jessica-Snow Wilson agrees. "I mean, who's not going to want to see a bunch of teenagers running around on stage in bikinis having an amazing time?"

The show is not a biography of Wilson or any of the surviving members of the Beach Boys, but the narrative does try to personify the tone and message of the band's canon.

"Everyone - at any age - can identify with the insanity of high school and its social groups," says Richard Dresser, who wrote the musical's book. "The sense of place for California and the sun and the surf and the sand made you want to go there. So those were the big elements of the story we had to include. For me, the music doesn't tell a literal story but an emotional one, because of the sense of yearning that's so strong in the songs."

Liberties were taken with some numbers in "Good Vibrations," Mr. Dresser says. "Die-hard fans may not hear the songs exactly as they were on the albums, but they're going to hear them reinvented in an exciting way."

The costumes, ethnic mix, and dance numbers in "Good Vibrations" are about as racy as Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon in Beach Blanket Bingo (1965), a comparison Dresser dismisses.

"A lot of people think of The Beach Boys as white-bread, bubble-gum music, but there are darker elements in the music and darker elements in our story," he says. "Some of the reference points are very '60s-ish, but that's only because it's when the music came out. You don't ever know exactly [what period you're in] because every time they're about to say the year there's feedback on the mike."

Since the Beach Boys inspired countless "good time" bands from the Go-Gos to Smashmouth to Offspring, the show's creators hope the songs will also inspire theater audiences in an increasingly tough financial climate for Broadway shows.

"It's about how contemporary kids take this music and make it their own, and in so doing show us that this music is timeless - that everybody has a piece of it and that everybody can make it theirs," says Carrafa. "Each kid who does a song in the show does it their way so there's a country version of one song, and we do David Larsen's own version of 'Fun, Fun, Fun.' It's really about kids in 2005 reinterpreting the Beach Boys' music for themselves, and it's all about being accessible."

'Good Vibrations,' which has begun previews, opens at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre on Jan. 27.

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