By Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson; Directed By Des Kennedy
Produced by The Lyric Theatre, Belfast
Off Broadway, Musical
Runs through 7.16.23
Irish Arts Center, 726 11th Avenue
by Shani R. Friedman on 6.27.23
(L-R) Odhrán McNulty, Gavin Peden, Christina Nelson, Glen Wallace, and Darren Franklin in Good Vibrations. Photo by Nir Arieli.
BOTTOM LINE: A somewhat thin character study within a feel-good true story, along with some absolutely kick-ass music.
I missed punk during its original heyday, but shame on me (and many others, I'm sure) for thinking it was mostly made up of the Sex Pistols, the Ramones, and The Clash. If not for Terri Hooley and his Good Vibrations—both record shop and music label—on the aptly nicknamed Bomb Alley in Belfast's City Centre, we might never have had the pleasure of hearing Rudi, The Undertones, and The Outcasts.
Music has a significant hold of Terri (Glenn Wallace) from an early age. Hank Williams (Dylan Reid) is one lodestar for him, and appears, resplendent all in white, to lead a gorgeous rendition of "I Saw The Light," a refrain that repeats throughout the show. (While Good Vibrations uses primarily punk music, Hooley's more diverse musical tastes are also represented.) But as Terri gets into his twenties during the height of The Troubles, he and parents George and Mavis (Marty Maguire and Christina Nelson) have less use for the religious divides between the Catholics and Protestants. While those around him seem to be one or the other, Terri breezily explains he's "choosy" about who his friends are when he meets poet Ruth Carr (Jayne Wisener) while working as a DJ. He sees himself as a "missionary" for music, he tells her. For him, the most revolutionary thing in the world is the 7-inch single "because these things change people's lives." Ruth is drawn to his love for Jamaican dub and the Shangri-Las, which are not the usual in 70's Belfast.
Inspired in part by his father's socialist ideals (George has run unsuccessfully for office more than a dozen times simply because he believes the people deserve to have something else on offer), Terri, Ruth (now the Mrs.) and her activist friends Dave (Darren Franklin) and Marilyn (Cat Barter) open a record store and printing press. Terri, who hates the word "community" because what it really means is "side," and whose philosophy is "If they can't buy you, they can't own you," terms his new project a "collective,"a violence-free zone in which all are welcome.
When the members of Rudi come into the shop, Terri's world is upended. He decides he's going to be the one to get their song "Big Time" out because there is no one else willing to spread the gospel of Belfast's music scene. Soon The Undertones and The Outcasts ("Justa Nother Teenage Rebel") have also found Terri and Good Vibrations. After being on the boot end of untold rejection from radio station personnel, Terri miraculously gets The Undertones' "Teenage Kicks" to John Peel at the BBC, who famously plays the song twice in a 1978 broadcast.
In short order Terri becomes record label owner, promoter and tour manager, in addition to shopkeeper, as the bands truly take off. Becoming Belfast's "Godfather of Belfast Punk" (as described by a German journalist) is almost as improbable as his survival despite the threats and oppressive surroundings. After all, during The Troubles, you can be "killed for anything. Killed for nothing." But like so many before in the music scene, Terri is completely ill-suited to running a business and goes full arsehole getting drunk every night, becoming the kind of guy he once railed against. Instead of being in the hospital when Ruth is giving birth, he's backstage at a Siouxsie and the Banshees show.
Marty Maguire in Good Vibrations. Photo by Nir Arieli.
Terri's blitheness and naiveté make for a fun, passionate, likeable guy. But as written by Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson, it's a portrait that comes across as unrealistic and lacking substance. As Terri, Glen Wallace is funny and gives off boundless wonder and enthusiasm. Ruth is more of a sketch than anything else, although Wisener brings heart, humor and warmth to her role. The most developed character is Terri's father George, played by the terrific Maguire. And the ensemble is brilliant! And a special shout out to set designer Grace Smart, who uses a garage door to masterful effect. When shut, it displays anarchist graffiti to give the feeling of a dodgy Belfast street; when rolled up, it serves seamlessly as a recording studio and an entry point for the various bands that take the stage. Though the show would be stronger with a less inscrutable main character, it's really all about the music and Belfast's triumph anyway. And I dare you to get "Teenage Kicks" out of your head.
(Good Vibrations plays at The Irish Arts Center, 726 11th Avenue, through July 16, 2023. Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with an intermission. Performances are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30; Thursdays and Fridays at 8; Saturdays at 2 and 8; and Sundays at 2. Masks required for all matinee performances. Tickets are $60 and $81 and are available at irishartscenter.org or by calling 888-616-0274.)
Good Vibrations is by Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson. Directed by Des Kennedy. Choreography by Jennifer Rooney. Set Design by Grace Smart. Lighting Design by Jack Knowles. Costume Design by Gillian Lennox. Sound Design by Ian Vennard. Musical Director is Katie Richardson.
The cast is Cat Barter, Connor Burnside, Darren Franklin, Marty Maguire, Odhrán McNulty, Chris Mohan, Christina Nelson, Jolene O’Hara, Gavin Peden, Dylan Reid, Glen Wallace, and Jayne Wisener.