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September 23, 2014

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Can carefree ‘Surf’ avoid splashdown at Planet Hollywood?

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Steve Marcus

Cast members, including Nikki Tuazon, center, perform in the “Dance, Dance, Dance” scene during a media preview of “Surf the Musical” at Planet Hollywood on Tuesday, May 29, 2012.

'Surf the Musical' Preview

Nikki Tuazon, who plays Rhonda, models a swimsuit during a media preview of Launch slideshow »

'Surf: The Musical' at Planet Hollywood

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Director Kirstin Hanggi and choreographer R.J. Durell flash "hang loose" signs during a media preview of "Surf the Musical" at Planet Hollywood on Tuesday, May 29, 2012.

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Marshal Kennedy Carolan, center, who plays Tanner, talks about his role with director Kirstin Hanggi and choreographer R.J. Durell during a media preview of "Surf the Musical" at Planet Hollywood on Tuesday, May 29, 2012.

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Lauren Zakrin, who plays Brooke, sings during a media preview of "Surf the Musical" at Planet Hollywood on Tuesday, May 29, 2012. Marshal Kennedy Carolan, as Tanner, plays the guitar in the background.

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Cast members, including Nikki Tuazon, center, perform in the "Dance, Dance, Dance" scene during a media preview of "Surf the Musical" at Planet Hollywood on Tuesday, May 29, 2012.

Ever tried surfing? It’s an uneasy practice. For every successful glide through the pipe, there are dozens of graceless nosedives to the drink.

Hopefully, for those who yearn for ambitious Las Vegas production shows, “Surf the Musical” won’t go all Greg Brady as it opens at Planet Hollywood.

“Surf” is being staged in the same theater where “Peepshow” disrobes (tickets are $144, $104, $84 and $64, absent fees). The show bumped back its original date for previews from June 22 to June 29, saying unforeseen technical issues were the reason for the delay. “Surf” celebrates its formal premiere July 17.

The show is an oft-discussed topic in entertainment circles around town. Everyone seems to want to know, “How’s ‘Surf?’ ” Without having seen a performance outside a swift set of four sneak-peek scenes last month at Planet Hollywood, it’s tough to say. Those scenes were impressively appointed with splashy set pieces and a cast as flashy as the stage effects.

Adrian Zmed is a member of the troupe, a nifty piece of casting to spark the attention of those who remember Zmed on “Dance Fever” and in “T.J. Hooker.” He also was a co-star in the “Grease” sequel “Grease 2,” surviving the film’s failure in a way co-star Maxwell Caulfield could not (“It took me 10 years to recover from ‘Grease 2,’  ” he once said).

Lauren Zakrin is the female lead (given the slyly aquatic name Brooke), having performed in the U.S. tours of “Wicked,” “Grease” and “Legally Blonde.” Marshal Kennedy Carolan plays the male lead role of Tanner, which also brings to mind the beach, as Tanner is tanner than most and is a far more appealing name for a beach-bound character than, say, Carson Noma.

Carolan might look familiar to fans of “Mamma Mia!” at Mandalay Bay, as he played Sky for a time in the ABBA musical. (Sky, Tanner … Carolan might be in line for a sunscreen endorsement at the end of the show’s run.)

The band (and can we start listing the musicians as prominently as cast members in all programs and promotional materials, please?) is loaded with some of the city’s top players. You could sell the band as a show itself, actually, with Dave Richardson on piano, Keith Nelson on bass, John Wedemeyer on guitar and Pepe Jimenez on drums. Tom Lipps plays second keyboard. Music director Ed Hamilton recruited Jerry Lopez of Santa Fe & the Fat City Horns to supply the musicians.

If that lineup is handling the music, don’t worry about the music.

The general point is, there is a lot of effort, energy and resources behind this musical. The around-town estimate of $5 million in production costs is, reportedly, double that. The creative team is led by director Kristin Hanggi, who is parading “Rock of Ages” to the Venetian in December. The choreographer is R.J. Durell, who also has worked on “Rock of Ages” and whose resume (dotted with such glamorous showcases as Madonna’s “Confessions” and “Sticky & Sweet” tours and the Cirque-Michael Jackson “Immortal” world tour) makes it seem he could retire tomorrow with total artistic fulfillment.

The show is depending on more than just lavish investment and top talent. It surfs along a groovy vibe. As a period piece, it samples a time that has worked well in Las Vegas — the 1960s. “Love” at the Mirage, “Jersey Boys” at Paris Las Vegas and Human Nature at Imperial Palace. Seems optimistic and thoughtful music you can dance to has a home on the Strip.

“There are a lot of shows right around that era — and I think ‘Hairspray’ works, too, as a period piece because it’s as simple as saying the music of that era was just really, really fun,” Durell says. “It was a period of time about feeling good, where people really started to express themselves. … It was a time for a huge expansion for us, as a people, where we broke down a lot of walls and barriers.”

The show’s soundtrack is a raking of the Beach Boys catalog, churning out more than 30 titles in 29 scenes. Even so, absent is the express formal endorsement of the band. Maybe the Beach Boys are allergic to jukebox musicals after the most recent attempt at bringing the band’s music to the stage in the ill-fated Broadway musical “Good Vibrations,” closed in April 2005 after a run of just 94 shows.

“It had a real short run, and for whatever reason, it didn’t work,” Hanggi says. “But here I am, a real Southern California girl who grew up on the beach, and I grew up on those sounds. I want to do right by them. I have such respect for the genius of Brian Wilson and the message in his music. He talks about spreading the gospel of love in his music. I understand that is what the heart of the show should be.”

Durell actually had a brush with the band during this year’s Grammy Awards. The Beach Boys were part of the show celebrating their 50th anniversary by performing a greatest-hits medley. (Maroon 5 and Foster the People helped power it.) Durell was on hand as a choreographer for Katy Perry and ran into the Beach Boys off-stage at Staples Center.

“All the guys were there, Brian (Wilson), everybody,” he says. “They were coming off an elevator, and I was going on. I went, ‘Oh my God,’ and I told them I was working on the show. They seemed very excited about it.”

For that moment, anyway. But the surf is an unpredictable place, a delicate balance between sashay and splashdown. “Surf the Musical” is wading out now. We’ll soon see if it can hang 10.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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