The creators of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” have presented the male equivalent, “Life Could Be a Dream,” but the results in this world premiere are mixed. Whereas in “Wonderettes” writer-director Roger Bean created a memorable group of femme singers and an effective plot device of 20 years passing between acts one and two, in “Life,” the characters couldn’t be more generic and the plot less compelling. There are a few strong voices in the show and plenty of classic 1950s songs, but some of the singing is uneven.
In 1960, Denny (Daniel Tatar) is unemployed and still living at home. He and his best friend, Eugene (Jim Holdridge), have pinned their hopes of stardom on a radio singing contest, but they need another group member. To this end, they recruit minister’s son Wally (Ryan Castellino), who has a contact who might sponsor the group. The sponsor sends his daughter Lois (Jessica Keenan Wynn) to check out the trio, along with one of his employees, Skip (Doug Carpenter). When Skip joins the group and Lois helps train them, they seem ready for the contest, except for one problem: Skip and Lois have fallen hard for each other, and Lois’ overprotective father may tear everything apart.
Wynn has a lovely and powerful singing voice, capable of subtle modulations and big emotion, and she impresses with a warm and expert rendition of “I Only Have Eyes for You” and “Easier Said Than Done.” Her perf of “Lonely Teardrops,” however, (and this may be due to the direction) smacks more of musical-theater ballad than rock ’n’ roll.
Castellino has a likable stage presence and a smooth singing voice that most evokes the original singers of these ’50s songs, and he brings feeling and sensitivity to such numbers as “Devil or Angel” and “The Glory of Love.”
Holdridge is genuinely amusing as Eugene, and his higher vocal range is put to good use in such numbers as “Only You” and “(You’ve Got) The Magic Touch.”
Tatar is stuck with a tricky part as the overconfident Denny and doesn’t succeed in getting past the role’s essential blandness, and his perfs of “Earth Angel” and “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” are similarly muted.
Carpenter is amiable and winning, but he often seems to have been given songs that are not quite in his vocal range, such as “The Great Pretender.” He fares better with “A Sunday Kind of Love” and “Duke of Earl,” but his duet with Lois on “Unchained Melody” doesn’t yet meet the song’s full emotional and musical potential. Bean’s direction is adequate but uninspired, although his fast-tempo arrangement of “Unchained Melody” as the show closer is lively fun and demonstrates the creativity the rest of the show needs. Lee Martino’s choreography feels familiar and adds little visual energy to the proceedings, and the show’s recorded soundtrack sounds generic and underwhelming.
Tom Buderwitz’s basement den set is believable and effective, Shon LeBlanc’s costumes seem to be genuine ’50s artifacts, and Luke Moyer’s lighting sets several moods well and adds pizzazz.