REVIEW: SLT’s Sh-Boom! is Pure Musical Joy

The boys in Sh-Boom! Life Could Be a Dream

BY SANDY STAGGS
DRAMA CRITIC

Sh-Boom, Sh-Boom! Spartanburg Little Theatre is open again!
Sh-Boom, Sh-Boom! Oh, life could be a dream.
Sh-Boom, Sh-Boom! I’m still humming this song.

Make haste and dash to the Chapman Cultural Center for Spartanburg Little Theatre’s 75th anniversary season opener Sh-Boom! Life Could Be a Dream, a jukebox musical featuring over 25 comfort-food hits from 50s and 60s, including “Fools Fall in Love,” “Tears on my Pillow,” “Runaround Sue,” “Earth Angel,” a couple of amazing adaptations of “Unchained Melody” and more.

COVID POLICY: Masks are required and seating capacity has also been limited to 2/3, allowing patrons to adjust seating once in the theatre if they wish.

The company has chosen a a sure-fire hit as they test the Covid reality of producing an entertaining live show safely with as few artists as possible. And Sh-boom!, which is selling out rapidly, provides a solid showcase for some of the theatre’s younger male talent, with most having major or supporting roles in previous SLT shows, and the stellar Hannah Searcy (Ariel in The Little Mermaid and star of Bright Star in Tryon).

From the same creative mind behind The Marvelous Wonderettes (a stupendous production was performed here in January 2016), Sh-boom! and several Wonderette sequels by Roger Bean are all set in the same universe of Springfield High School and its alumni.

The thin-plot involves aspiring singer and loafer Denny Varney (Perrion Porter in his glorious SLT debut) and his pals – the always-engaging Ryan Barry as Eugene and Wally (the triple threat Trey Westbrook in his finest work to date) and their quest to win fame and the “Dream of a Lifetime” Talent Search.

Though long since graduated from high school, Denny still lives with his mother in the family rec room basement where most of the action takes place. In a hilarious running gag, the mother (voiced by Searcy offstage) constantly nags him to forget this “rocking and rolling” and get a vocation.

Hannah Searcy

Denny’s position as lead doo-wop singer is in flux with the arrival of newcomer Duke (the charismatic Payton Williams also in his smashing SLT debut). And, for a testosterone-fueled story, Searcy as Lois, their sponsor’s daughter, wields much power in the familiar story and musically.

Yes, the plot is thin and dorky, and often predictable – there is a romance – but director Jay E. Coffman hustles the numbers right along with panache and ultimately, some razzle dazzle.

But we are here for the music. And this quartet (now called Denny & The Dreamers) delivers the music in droves. The cast exudes high-octane fun and and skillfully execute the entire show experience on their five shoulders…along with the live six-piece band in the orchestra pit with the great Ben Chumley as music director.

Porter seamlessly shifts from wide-eyed ambition to seasoned showman and Barry (Scuttle in The Little Mermaid and roles is Spamalot, Peter and the Starcatcher, And Then There Were None among other SLT shows) delights and commits to his nerdy follower in the pack, constantly repeating Denny’s ideas. And Westbrook rounds out the Three Stooges (yes, there is a Stooges gag too) in an an all-out go-big-or-go-home, kinetic portrayal of a fellow who is up for any antic.

And with his rendition of “Unchained Melody” with Searcy, Williams has secured his future as a young leading man in the company’s big-budget musicals this season. Freddy Mercury in We Will rock You next summer?

But again, Searcy matches the boys note for note and is ever the chanteuse (“I Only Have Eyes for You” was sinfully terrific!) in a pristine assortment of palettes and pastels of pretty period dresses by costume designer Elizabeth Robinson.

The cast is superb both musically and in their doo-wop choreography (Kristofer Parker & April Kibbe) that begins humorously and goofy and gradually evolves into a stellar and polished sheen as the quartet and Lois rehearse and ultimately perform at the talent show.

A big shout out to the SLT band with Chumley at the keyboard, Karen Hampton (also on keyboard), Shawn Allen on guitar, Josh Tennant on bass, Kevin Heuer on drums and Barry McGinnis on reeds.

If you have decent seats, you can appreciate the rec room set (scenic designer Tim Baxter-Ferguson) which is rich in texture and period detail from the wallpaper and wall designs to the props (Katherine Rausch). And kudos to the back lit wall/windows (Lighting Designer Peter Lamson). That was a pleasant surprise.

Elizabeth Turner is stage manager for Sh-Boom!

Performances continue September 24-25 at 8 pm, and September 25-26 at 3 pm at the Chapman Cultural Center in Spartanburg’s Downtown Cultural District, 200 East St. John St.

Tickets for Sh-boom! Life Could Be a Dream can be purchased at the Chapman Cultural Center box office, by calling (864) 542-2787, or online at www.spartanburglittletheatre.com.

Tickets are $30 for adults, $27 for seniors and $20 for students and youth (ages 0+). Running time is approximately 2 hours.

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