Hollywood has always been a place where people flock to make their dreams come true, but usually those are dreams of film or television fame. HOUSE OF DREAMS, making its world premiere playing at the San Diego Repertory explores the story of Gold Star Recording Studios in Hollywood whose unique sound had a lasting impact on music. Playing through September 1st, this musical is an infectiously fun look at the recording studio that helped create some of the most iconic songs in music.
The show opens in 1984, at a rehearsal for a documentary video on Gold Star. This set up allows for the look back on history of the founders Stan Ross (Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper) the man with the plan and the ear for music, and his partner David Gold (Jacob Caltrider) the innovative engineer who could make the recording chambers and mixing boards that made their sound unique.
Gold and his fiancé Mitzi (Bethany Slomka) introduce Ross to Mitzi’s friend Vera (Aviva Pressman) and they fall in love and get married. Soon the four of them are all in on making the recording studio of their dreams and find success. As demanding clients like Phil Spector (Collin Leydon) help them succeed but put more demands on their time Ross finds the success of the studio and their music has him spending less time focused on his family, marriage, and partnership with Gold.
The show covers a lot of ground, both in timeline and musically, as the musical groups and their hits keep flowing through the studio. From Ritchie Valens, the Righteous Brothers, the Beach Boys, Tina Turner, Sonny and Cher, Joan Jett- honestly, the list of songs is basically the best playlist ever.
Mongiardo-Cooper is winning as the warm but driven Ross, from union reps to musical acts, even Phil Spector and his crazy behavior; it’s easy to see why he was able to win so many people over. Caltriders Gold is a good compliment as the more particular engineer who has a love for working with reclaimed materials to create the distinctive sounds.
Pressman as Vera has a lovely voice but doesn’t really get much character growth until the second act. Slomka as Mitzi is happy and bubbly throughout, which can seem more one note but is a nice foil to both her husband’s logic and the Ross’ more complicated relationship.
The rest of the cast, which boasts students from San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts is excellent and brings the energy this musical needs to keep the momentum going. Standouts include SDCPA student Janae Parson as Tina Turner, Dave Rivas who has a stellar William Shatner moment, and Micha Fong as the unflappable assistant Angela.
Costumes by Jennifer Brawn Gittings, set by Sean Fanning, with Philippe Bergman designed lighting and Matt Lescault-Wood designed sound help make this show as fun to watch as it is to hear. The band conducted by Tamara Paige, is offstage but does a lot of work juggling different songs and genres and also features SCPA student musicians.
The show does leave some questions unanswered; how was the closing of the studio handled? What did they do after the studio closed? The fact that they mentored in a new punk and rock sound is mentioned frequently but it’s not really reflected in the songs performed. Other than “Cherry Bomb” there’s not a real rock element that feels missing.
It’s the problem of almost all jukebox musicals; how to balance the music with the emotional development? This show is a really fun and entertaining time, and revisits some amazing music. It just needs some editing to keep the emotional storylines more consistent throughout and to feel less hectic.
HOUSE OF DREAMS is a lot of fun and I can see this show heading for the bright lights of Broadway, catch it before it’s gone!
HOUSE OF DREAMS is playing through September 1st at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. For ticket and show time information got to sdrep.org