During the dawning of the Southern California surf era, Shirley Westlie Orlando was a high school student in Huntington Beach, able to observe the surf culture firsthand. Now, Orlando is a master songsmith and composer. The strength of her show, which unfolds in summer 1963, is its music: a raft of beautifully crafted songs clearly inspired by Jan and Dean and The Beach Boys, yet wholly original (all nicely arranged by Erik Przytulski). "Surfin' Is the Life for Me," "Board Fever," and a few other songs, including the show's title number, capture the quintessence of the surf scene and its milieu. Others, like "Breakers at Sunset," "Better Than Any Dream," and "She Doesn't Even Know I Exist," are delicate, poignant, and bittersweet, showing another side of Orlando's talent.
Undermining the show's success is its libretto, crammed with so many characters that it feels like an elongated TV pilot. The story's focal point is the quasi love triangle between sensitive artist and surfer boy J.D. (Josh Alton), good-girl Anne (Arroya Karian), and jock Brad (Alex Syiek). The nearly two-hour first act takes its time getting to a surprise revelation that turns out to be marginal, at best, to the main story line.
Director and choreographer Roberta Kay's cast is youthful and green, and it shows. Part of this artlessness is charming, but Kay might have done better to go with slightly older, more accomplished actors. However shaky their singing, the leads have confident vocal styles, and the large ensemble numbers come off best. Pacing is a problem, no doubt undermined by the constant scene changes. The production, a world premiere, seems a massive undertaking—and an obvious badge of pride—for a small community theatre company born and bred in what is officially called Surf City, U.S.A.
Presented by and at Huntington Beach Playhouse, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach. Thu.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 & 7 p.m. (Dark Sun. 7 p.m. Aug. 20.) Aug. 4-20. (714) 375-0696.