Think: Grease Jr. meets Beach Blanket Bingo Lite.
Each has characters of Shakespearean complexity compared to Surf: The Musical, the new Beach Boys-powered jukebox-er hangin’ 10 at Planet Hollywood. Should that matter when the point is reveling in a beloved band’s music? No—unless a show concocts characters and a plot, implying you should care what happens, and to whom.
Yet this 90-minute sugar rush could run for years thanks to its surf’s-up sweetness, off-the-charts energy, exploding visuals and soundtrack of an idealized era that lets baby boomers forget their arthritis and next colonoscopy.
Story? Couldn’t be simpler (or blonder): Surfer/musician Tanner (Marshal Kennedy Carolan) loves all-American beach sweetie Brooke (Lauren Zakrin) but leaves their sandy paradise to pursue a rock career. How do we know they’re in love? One kiss and a couple of lines. How do we know he fails and returns? One scene/song (“That’s Not Me”) as he fails and returns. Once back, Tanner discovers Brooke’s with—wait for it—Rip (Alex Ringler). We know Rip’s badass because he wears leather. Will Tanner win her back? Do fish poop in the ocean?
Narrative setup: five minutes.
Characterizations get flimsier from there. Waves of goofy, beefy, cheesecake-y beach types crowd onstage (yes, there’s a Doogie). Ex-Dance Fever host Adrian Zmed talk-sings his songs as a beach-bum oracle advising Tanner with pearls such as, “It’s the ebb and flow of life.”
Should a story with the sturdiness of a Styrofoam cup not bother you, the rest is tasty gravy. Surf’s dance-tastic cast sells it with charming hyperactivity you couldn’t calm with a warehouse of Ritalin.
With little story to help, Carolan and Zakrin at least prove The Method must address how to act blond. Among the supporters, Riley Costello brings a tartness to Brooke’s preternaturally mature kid bro, and Robert Torti has subtle fun as Brooke’s dad. Nearly stealing Surf as (help-help-me) Rhonda is Nikki Tuazon, a bikinied tornado whose gyrations suggest her ass and hips are visiting from another, higher dimension. Plus, her brunette sexiness offsets all the beach-bleached blondness.
Central to everything are nearly 30 tunes from the Beach Boys oeuvre that only the grouchiest grouch couldn’t embrace. Among them: “Good Vibrations,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “California Girls,” “In My Room,” “Surfin’ Safari,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and “Little Deuce Coupe.” Most are well-placed, nudging along the such-as-it-is plot, but one classic —“Don’t Worry Baby”—turns vaguely creepy as a duet between Brooke and her dad. You hear the substitute lyric, “When you come through for me,” but remember the real lyric: “When you make love to me.” Yuck.
Surf dazzles the eye, though—it’s a candy-colored pinwheel with quick-draw scenery switches and sporty cars (yes, there’s a T-Bird). Anchored by a stage-length, high-def video-projection screen, it whooshes us from beach to street to boardwalk amusement park (a Ferris wheel effect is especially cool).
Surf would never win a Tony, but would thrill Frankie and Annette.
STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Could this columnist’s mood have been tempered after getting smacked in the kisser with an aggressively spiked beach ball, his glasses smushed into his face?
Yes, Surf’s cast tosses beach balls into the crowd. … Yes, I’m a weenie.
Who did it? Alas, The Case of the Beach Ball Mauler remains unsolved.