A talent contest, a love story, and lively songs we know are celebrated in “Life Could Be a Dream” presented at the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
The musical takes place in the 1960s in Denny Varney’s Basement. The “Crooning Crabcakes,” a boy group hoping for fame and fortune, aim to win the Dream-of-a-Lifetime Talent Search. The musical, created by Roger Bean, originally premiered at Milwaukee Repertory Theater and later went on to win the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award. It makes a strong showing at NYMF.
“Life Could Be a Dream” features classics like “Life Could be a Dream,” “Sh-Boom,”“Tears on My Pillow” and “Earth Angel.” Throughout the show, tempos are quick and harmonies are crisp and clear. Love songs like “I Only Have Eyes For You” have a finesse that brings back soulful memories of bygone days.
The three friends from Springfield, USA, played by Ryan Castellino, Jim Holdridge, and Daniel Tatar, are a strong, appealing ensemble. Both smooth and geeky, they slide across the stage with great charm, as they work together to make it to the talent contest. Tennis racquets become microphones and a bar that looks like a soda fountain becomes a place to stage a dance scene. A mother’s persistent voice breaks through the song and dance numbers to remind Denny to get a job.
The show takes place over less than a week’s time and the countdown structure is quite effective. A new friend, Skip Henderson, played by the charismatic Doug Carpenter, appears on Day Three. Straight from the auto mechanics shop, he brings to the team a smooth voice and style. His girlfriend, Lois, played by Victoria Matlock, appears with the rest of the cast, adding moments of song. As the men surround the tall, red-haired beauty, Matlock looks like Lola in “Damn Yankees.” Surrounded by Denny, Eugene, and Wally, she solidly holds court in the middle of the stage, adding comedy, grace, and style to the overall ensemble.
I wanted a bit more from the projections upstage. Photos of famous singing sensations fade in and out on a colorful backdrop. Actual stars in the sky rise and fall, as they move up on the screen. Projections were images of words in the songs. However, they did not bring up any new ideas or drive the action of the play forward.
The show culminates with the band winning the contest. Dressed in red jackets, being neither angels nor devils, the Crooning Crabcakes win with their exuberance, charisma and charm. The quick final round of songs including “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” and “Rama Lama Ding Dong” is a genuine crowd pleaser.