Theater Review:  33 1/3 – HOUSE OF DREAMS  (San Diego Repertory Theatre)

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by Milo Shapiro on August 19, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional

TRIBUTE TO THE HITS FROM GOLD STAR

Gold Star Recording Studio might not be a household name, but the musicians they recorded for certainly are: Tina Turner, Sonny and Cher, and the Beach Boys are just hint at the long list. Gold Star turned out over 120 Top-40 songs in their thirty year history. With that history of releasing billions of 45 RPM singles and 33 1/3 RPM albums (thus the show title) comes a lot of stories for us.

Jonathan Rosenberg and Brad Ross’s book gets its world premiere with San Diego Rep, with a large cast whose experience ranges from the nine professional actors (including several seasoned equity players) to students from SDSCPA’s Xchange Xperience program. There are only three major speaking roles in the show so most of the stage time by the 26 performers is in their high-energy, well-executed musical numbers.

As co-founder Stan Ross (Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper), Stan’s business partner Dave Gold (Jacob Caltrider), and Stan’s wife Vera (Aviva Pressman) are being interviewed for a retrospective on Gold Star history, the stories are punctuated by the hits we love.  In some cases, the vast cast is spot on impersonating the original. In other cases, Steve Gunderson’s arrangements of the songs are somewhat interpreted to mix things up.  We’re treated to seeing Richie Valens (Paul Chairez) playing a sweet and gentle “La Bamba” and then being advised in studio as to how it might be better received in the more fast-paced way that we’ve all come to know it. We also get a few great mash-ups, such as when that “La Bamba” number bleeds back and forth unexpectedly into Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues.” Songs range from as light as the Ronettes’ “Da Doo Ron Ron” to Iron Butterfly’s gritty “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” to the Righteous Brothers’ soulful “Unchained Melody” (yes, singer Sky Frank does hit that note).

Keeping it real, the weaker side of this show is that the plotline is thin. Conflicts are generally either resolved quickly or left open. For instance, we’re teased with the impact that Gold Star’s success has on Stan and Vera’s marriage, thinking it’s going to be a big plot point and, in the end, yeah, he wasn’t home much during their marriage. It feels a bit like they were searching for more plot points and that was something they could pull from. Accordingly, 20- and 30-somethings who aren’t into the music of the 1950s — 1970s may leave this show feeling like it was really all meant for Mom and Dad, who are more likely to find the back stories on classic songs interesting.

So if the plot isn’t tremendous and the music won’t thrill the Millennials, why is this show selling so well that it is getting an extension? Because, happily, there’s enough plot that it is indeed a musical and not just a concert (especially with Mongiardo-Cooper being pretty lovable) and, more importantly, it’s a wonderfully well-produced tribute to great music that millions of us older folk (and cooler young people) do love. The house, which was almost sold out to a mostly-50+ crowd, was full of people smiling and clapping along. The singers are on the spot. Javier Velasco’s directing and choreography are a joy to take in (how do girl back-up bands remember all those synchronize nuances?). Jennifer Brown Gittings’ costumes raise the fun level. And, of course, there’s the live band that nails the numbers time and again.  Overall, the energy is sweetly contagious. This is a show that could easily have a long Vegas run.

So if you’ve ever blown dust off a vinyl disk, jumped a quarter on an 8-track tape, or flipped a cassette, the folks at the Rep have a treat for you. Grab your “Rockin’ Robin” and come down for some “Good Vibrations!”

photos by Jim Carmody

33-1/3 – House of Dreams
San Diego Repertory Theatre
Lyceum Stage, 79 Horton Plaza
Wed at 7; Fri at 8; Sat at 2 & 8; Sun at 2 & 7
extended through Sept 1, 2019
for tickets, call 619.544.1000 or visit SD Rep

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