Stars Come Out in ‘Boynton Beach Club’

Surflight Theatre Production of Premiere
By RICK MELLERUP | Sep 18, 2019
Courtesy of: Studio 63

Beach Haven — Let’s make one thing immediately clear: you’re not likely to see a collection of talent such as Surflight Theatre has assembled for its current production, “Boynton Beach Club,” in many theaters outside of New York City.

The cast of 12 can boast more than 40 Broadway appearances. It includes stars such as Andrea McArdle, the original Annie; Joel Blum, twice nominated for a Tony as best featured actor in a musical for his work in “Show Boat” and “Steel Pier”; and Barry Pearl, who played Randolph MacAfee in Broadway’s original “Bye Bye Birdie,” and the role of Doody in the film version of “Grease.”

They and, indeed, all of the performers, certainly hit their marks in this Surflight production. Highlights include a convincing and carefully understated romance between McArdle’s character, Lois Paulson, and Aaron Ramey’s Donald Best, despite the fact both lie their heads off. Another is Blum’s Jack Goodman and Nina Hennessey’s Sandy Wills and their clumsy sex; and there is Pearl’s Harry Fanelli, being sent to the hospital because of an encounter with an adventurous prostitute.

The show is certainly worth shelling out $39 a ticket for its onstage talent alone. Because the show was a Broadway “tryout,” Surflight Producing Artistic Director Steven Steiner joked all summer that you could pay $39 now or hundreds later when the show reached New York.

Well, it is likely you won’t have to worry about paying Broadway prices for a good long while. Or probably never. Surflight’s production features enough star power to make for a fun trip to the theater and more importantly, to gloss over the musical’s weaknesses, of which there are plenty. But once that ticket price breaks the $100 mark, those weaknesses are going to stand out.

The musical is based on the 2005 non-musical movie of the same name, directed by Susan Seidelman of “Desperately Seeking Susan” fame and suggested by her mother Florence, who had told her daughter tales from a real life active adult community in Boynton Beach, Florida. Its main characters have lost their wives or husbands to death (or, as it turns out, divorce), but aren’t ready to hang up the saddle quite yet. After all, the show proclaims, “60 is the new 40.” So sadness gives way to randiness when the community’s bereavement club meets.

Seidelman, who wrote the show’s book, told Brent Johnson of that turning her movie into a stage musical has taken her and her collaborators – composer Ned Paul Ginsburg and lyricists Michael Colby and Cornelia Ravenal – nine years. Over those years the show has gone through numerous re-writes, readings and workshops in an attempt to keep it contemporary.

Well, jokes and entire scenes that base their humor on erectile dysfunction pills and the types of creeps or pros(titutes) you can attract on computer dating sites aren’t contemporary, they’re long in the tooth. Come on, this was stand-up comedy fare at least a decade ago. They still drew laughs from a large Surflight audience on Sunday afternoon, but although they might play in Peoria – oops, Beach Haven – they’re not going to crack up Broadway critics. And the fact is, the whole 40 is the new 30 shtick has been cooked to well done levels.

The biggest problem, though, is that “Boynton Beach Club” is too small for Broadway.

What makes a great Broadway show?

Dancing and huge production numbers? You’re not going to find much of those in “Boynton Beach.”

Stirring musical anthems? There are few contenders in Ginsburg’s too-frequent songs, which would be swallowed in a Broadway theater.

A great, thought-provoking, book? A story about lonely people who could easily head into Eleanor Rigby territory finding love could be a poignant one, but “Boynton Beach Club” stays away from drama and slides towards sitcom laughs.

Great sets? You could expect a bare bones approach at Surflight. But if the show were to play the Great White Way, set designers would probably go crazy figuring out how to make clubhouses, Chinese restaurants featuring $5.95 early bird specials, and retirement community condos look exciting.

Sure, some small musicals have been Broadway hits; the quirky “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” which opened Off-Broadway before running for 21 previews and 1,136 performances from 2005 through 2008 at the Circle on the Square Theatre, immediately comes to mind. But with the constantly increasing ticket prices on Broadway, theatergoers generally want spectacle or audacious, not quirky.

On the other hand, “Boynton Beach Club” is probably too large for Off-Broadway and regional theater. It has far too many scene changes and too large of a cast. Surflight went all in with its casting, considering it was aiming to impress possible Broadway backers. But the cost of producing it could scare off the artistic directors of many a small theater.

Finally, the show is too long, running almost three hours including an intermission. That’s the length of “Les Miserables,” and one thing “Boynton Beach Club” certainly isn’t, is epic.

The Surflight production is undoubtedly worth seeing. It isn’t often the Beach Haven theater can feature so many Broadway stars. Besides, it is certainly interesting to see a show in its developmental stage.

But in the end, this show needs much more development, or to be more truthful, “undevelopment.”

Seidelman has said she’d love to see the show reach New York but would be happy enough if it became a staple of regional theater. To do so it will have to be reworked again, shooting for smaller, tighter, and therefore, better.

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