By George Basler
Like a hamburger at the drive-in or a double dip sundae at the ice cream stand, the musical Sh-Boom! Life Could Be a Dream is a prime example of “comfort food.”
The show, which opens Friday (May 19) and runs for three weekends at the Cider Mill Stage in Endicott, features a wafer-thin plot and a parade of “golden oldies” songs from the late 1950s and early 1960s designed to have audience members tapping their toes and smiling in recognition.
“It’s just good fun and a good time out,” said Rob Egan, artistic director of BLAST (Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier), which is staging the show. “For a lot of audience members, it’s nostalgic, and even for younger people, they know a lot of the songs.”
The show, which premiered in 2009, is the work of Roger Bean, who specializes in writing candy-coated “jukebox musicals” (plots constructed to utilize the popular music of a particular time).
One of his other shows is the hit The Marvelous Wonderettes.
Sh-Boom! delivers on this concept big time. It features some 25 songs, with an emphasis on hits recorded by doo-wop groups of the era. Some, such as “Unchained Melody,” remain well known.
Others, less so. When was the last time you heard “Buzz-Buzz- Buzz,” a song by the Hollywood Flames that reached number 11 on the Billboard pop chart in 1957? (Look it up.)
The BLAST production is a showcase for young performers. The five cast members range in age from 20 to 32, Egan said. They are working together to recreate the harmony group sound circa 1960.
Sh-Boom! begins with Denny (Nicholas O’Neil) hatching the bright idea of entering the “Big Whooper” radio contest “Dream of a Lifetime Talent Search.” He recruits two friends –Wally (Mike Ferguson) and Eugene (Isaac Weber) — to form a trio. The boys then recruit Big Stuff Auto, owned by “Big Ed,” to be their sponsor.
The plot thickens when Big Ed’s daughter, Lois (Kerry Kane), and Duke (Jacob Donlin), a mechanic at the shop, show up to check the group out. All the boys fall for Lois, but she only has eyes for Duke, who is something of a bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Duke joins the trio, making it a quartet. Complications ensue. Jealousies arise. But everything comes out alright in the end.
Sh-Boom!’s tone is reminiscent of the romanticized nostalgia of the hit television show Happy Days, Egan said. The songs are interwoven throughout the show to help drive the plot.
Egan is co-directing with Kate Murray, BLAST’s executive director, who is doing the choreography based on popular dances of the period. Sonny DeWitt is the musical director.
Maurice “Mo Music” Taylor is supplying the pre-recorded voice of “Bullseye” Miller, a disc jockey on the fictional WOPR radio station, who introduces records throughout the show. Taylor is a Binghamton-based radio personality, as well as being a singer and trombonist with the Terry Walker Project and director of Binghamton University’s Pep Band.
Kane, 32, said she auditioned for the role of Lois because she loves the pop songs of the early 1960s. “(The groups of the time) made it look so simple and effortless, but the chords are complicated and intricate,” she said.
The key to playing her character is “keeping it bubbly,” Kane added. She described Lois as “sweet” but also “very strong.” Ferguson, 27, whose Wally is the “square” member of the quartet, calls doo-wop his favorite type of music. “I love the tightness of the harmonies and the style of these vocal groups,” he said.
Donlin, 20, also enjoys singing group harmony songs from the 1950s and 60s. He has previously appeared at the Cider Mill in Plaid Tidings, a musical based in the same era as Sh-Boom!. “Everyone can listen to these songs and have a good time,” he said.
For his part, Egan, now 44, can remember listening to this music when his parents played it when he was a kid. Sh-Boom!, he noted, is meant to be a song-filled romp for all young and old alike.
IF YOU GO: BLAST (Bold Local Artists of the Southern Tier) will present Sh-Boom! Life Could Be a Dream weekends May 19-June 4 at the Cider Mill Stage, 2 Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Friday and Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday performances are at 2:30 p.m. Tickets at $25 can be purchased online at cidermillstage.com or by calling the box office at 607-321-9630.