Los Angeles Theater Review: LOCALS ONLY! (World Premiere at Santa Monica College)

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by Kevin Lax on October 7, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

MORE OF A LOCAL THAN AN EXPRESS

Written and conceived by Emmy-award winning producer Bill Borden (High School Musical, Desperado), Locals Only! is a new musical that follows the story of two star-crossed lovers who amorously pursue their blossoming love relationship amidst a culture clash that arises between their respective beach and Valley posses. The title draws its name from the nomenclature used by the surfing community to designate their territory, and acts as a plot device in the musical to, quite literally, draw a line in the sand between the feuding contingencies. This production boasts an interdisciplinary approach, wherein students from an assortment of departments at Santa Monica College—including art, photography, and film—have come together to strengthen the musical with their diverse backgrounds and talents.

The ensemble of LOCALS ONLY! At Santa Monica College. Photo by Edge Suarez.

The plot focuses on the haphazard meeting of the two lead characters, Buzz Jr and Ariel, during a brief altercation on the Venice boardwalk. Through their chance encounter, Buzz Jr falls instantly for Ariel, despite their warring entourages and cultural differences: He’s a teenage surfer boy who is trying to find direction in his life while grappling with the recent loss of his father, also a surfer; and she is a privileged Valley girl caught up in a dead-end relationship. As the plot unfolds, the duo faces a series of obstacles as their worlds come crashing together. Yet through their perseverance and the sage contributions of a few more seasoned characters, they are ultimately able to quell the storm around them and embrace in peace.

Brendan Cobia, Autumn Powers and Harrison Meloeny in LOCALS ONLY! At Santa Monica College. Photo by Edge Suarez.

Under Perviz Sawoski’s direction, Locals Only! sets forth with the collected efforts of an extraordinarily ambitious crew and cast, the latter brimming with youthful energy and smiles, but the musical struggles to gain its footing and establish a consistent rhythm. The main reason for this is rooted less in production values than in the thin storyline and patchwork of songs that never really coalesce.

Harrison Meloeny, Nellie Veitenheimer and Ollie Gabriel in LOCALS ONLY! At Santa Monica College. Photo by Edge Suarez.

The prevailing tone and dialogue of the musical rarely falls into stride, as it wavers between silly and campy to philosophical and insightful, from raunchy and suggestive innuendo to heartfelt and raw emotion. There are certainly some nice moments, including comical appearances by Andrew Shane Walters as a quirky rollerskating guitarist, and words of wisdom from Buzz Sr (Doug Kiphut), but the constantly shifting tone remains confusing and ambiguous, never allowing the audience to fully relax into the plot and character arcs.

Autumn Powers & Harrison Meloeny in LOCALS ONLY! At Santa Monica College. Photo by Edge Suarez.

Musically speaking, Locals Only! is a guitar-driven score that relies heavily on the surf rock genre to propel the songs and underscore, although a few other musical styles enter the equation, such as the hip-hop based “At the Skate Park,” and the singer-songwriter ballad “Fell in Love Alone.” There are several tasteful musical moments, including the opening number “Boy to Man,” excerpts from “Falling with You,” and the finale “One with the Wave.”  However, problems with the storyline prevent the songs from having much emotional effect and an inconsistent tone invite a few songs to seemingly come out of left field, such as “Karma” and “I Told You,” which very well could be attributed to the unusually large array of composers and lyricists too numerous to list (there were 12 songsmiths actually). The two leads, Autumn Powers and Harrison Meloeny, while singing in earnest, fall a bit short of the mark in their ability to project. Highlight performances include the aforementioned “Fell in Love Alone” from Nellie Veitenheimer as surfer Jazmin, and “Life Goes On” from Marissa Dubois as Elena, Buzz Jr.’s mom.

The cast of LOCALS ONLY! At Santa Monica College. Photo by Edge Suarez.

Through a mini overhaul of the script and music, as well as a tightening of Mark Tomasic’s choreography, the music performances under Gary Gray’s direction, and a few other technical aspects, Locals Only! shows promise. SMC President Dr. Chui L. Tsang brought the project to the college, which brings the right spirit to this short run. With a few tweaks, SMC could certainly be breaking home soon enough once it becomes—in the words of Buzz Sr—“one with the wave.”

photos by Edge Suarez

Locals Only!
Santa Monica College
SMC Main Stage, 1900 Pico Blvd. in Santa Monica
Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2
scheduled to end on October 19, 2014
for tickets, call (310) 434-3005 or (310) 434-4319
or visit www.smc.edu/mainstage

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