The Huntington Beach Playhouse's New Musical, 'Born to Ride the Waves,' Feels a Tad Too Familiar

Wipeout
Born to Ride the Waves feels awfully familiar

You know you've been reviewing too long when you start seeing the same work you saw 10 years ago, this time with a title change, and someone's trying to pawn it off as a "world premiere."

In January 1997, I reviewed a production of a new musical for the Weekly. It was called Surfstory, it was at the Newport Theater Arts Center, and it was a decidedly mediocre affair.

Indulge me for a moment as we stroll down Memory Lane and grab a few quotes from that review:

"A frustratingly underdeveloped narrative . . . It brings up potentially complex ecological and development questions, but then doesn't supply an adequate story line to hang them on. . . . Sadly, few of the actors do the songs justice; most of the singing is too weak to be heard over the music. . . . The vocals just aren't loud enough, and when we can hear them, most are off-key or inexpressive. . . . It's a man's world . . . [and the cast's] women . . . are tokens to reassure the audience that there isn't anything funny going on when all these buff guys in swimming trunks fawn over each other. When the book is rewritten, which it will have to be if it's going to go anywhere except Orange County, giving the women more to do than stand around and look pretty should be at the top of the list. . . . Pump up the dialogue and, most important, create some dramatic tension."

I enjoyed Joseph Mulroy's music and lyrics—"Mulroy's infectious music and sensitive lyrics are so good it's hard to resist jumping out of your seat and dancing in the aisles"—but the black hole where the story should be made for a disappointing evening.

Flash forward to 2008, and I'm assigned to review a new musical at the Huntington Beach Playhouse. I Google the theater for directions, and imagine my surprise as I read the pull quote: me praising Mulroy's music, exactly as above, in the "new" show that I hadn't yet seen. In addition, the quote was attributed to fellow Weekly scribe Joel Beers. After seeing this reworked version of Surfstory under the nom de guerre Born to Ride the Waves, I will happily let him take the blame for saying something nice about it.

The tiny kernel of story is basically the same—the destruction of the point break at Dana Cove and the construction of Dana Point Harbor by the Army Corps of Engineers—but it's not even mentioned until the second act. Mulroy's music is still lively, if a bit derivative, this decade later. Cast members' voices still can't be heard over the music. Marie de La Palme and Gemma Hebson's direction/choreography is sloppy, the under-rehearsed dialogue falling victim to poor timing. Characters are the same leaden surfer dude/blonde clichés. And the story—what there is of it—is still miserably, plotlessly incoherent, even with two new writers (Mimi Leahey and Harry Nangle).

In the end, after the project has gone through several hands and a couple of productions, after 10 years and no improvement, Mulroy seems much like his apolitical protagonists. He has handed things over to developers, standing idly by as the work is dynamited and reduced to rubble. It's a damn shame and incredibly frustrating to watch such unique—potentially great—material not be transformed into something special.

Mulroy's music—and our history—deserves better.

Born to Ride the Waves at the Huntington Beach Playhouse, at Huntington Beach Central Library, ?7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 375-0696; www.hbph.com. Wed.-Sat., ?8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. Through July 20. $18-$20.

 
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