A recurring pulse of pure exhilaration with purpose spins through “Recorded in Hollywood” at the Lillian Theatre.
Though not without new-show quirks, Matt Donnelly, Jamelle Dolphin and Andy Cooper’s fervent, thoughtful musical study of legendary record store Dolphin’s of Hollywood and its visionary namesake is interesting, entertaining and frequently thrilling.
One needn’t know from John Dolphin (Stu James, avid and engaging), whose world-famous 24-hour store and party spot drew diverse crowds to Central Avenue in the '50s and presaged both Motown and Selma. Leave that to the libretto by Donnelly and Dolphin (the subject’s grandson and author of the biography “Recorded” is based on), which charts an under-recounted national turning point in popular music and racial integration.
It opens in 1948 at the equally legendary Club Alabam, with an infectious opener, “Ain’t We Havin’ a Time.” Between choreographer Cassie Crump’s specificity, music director Stephan Terry’s sizzling arrangement and the ensemble’s abandon, resistance is all but impossible.
Andy Cooper’s noteworthy score drives the narrative. Well-thought era pastiches dovetail with vintage items by such artists as Sam Cooke (a fine-tuned Godfrey Moye), historically advanced by Dolphin, and theater songs for Dolphin, wife Ruth (the wonderful Jade Johnson), DJ Dick “Huggy Boy” Hugg (Nic Olsen), crony Leon Washington (Rahsaan Patterson), unsettled songwriter Percy Ivy (Eric B. Anthony), and so forth.
With director Denise Dowse keeping things moving, aided by resourceful designers -- Joel Daavid’s rotating trapezoids are the linchpin of an effective scheme -- and a rip-roaring cast, one hesitates to observe where “Recorded” needs tweaking.
Ruth and her sisters (Brooke Brewer, Jenna Gillespie, Sha’Leah Nikole Stubblefield and Katherine Washington, all terrific) could be fruitfully expanded, as could police interference -- wherever musical idioms tell the story, the richer the impact.
The brief scene that interrupts the Act 1 curtain number “Man of the Hour” should be musically absorbed, and the Act 2 tragedy more subtly foreshadowed. Some white females amid the increasing racial mix couldn’t hurt, erratic miking demands attention, and, though accurate enough, the show’s title might be too utilitarian for artistic and marketing appeal (we nominate “Lovin’ John,” a lullaby/elegy that hushes the house twice).
Given the intelligence and talent on tap, positive refinements seem inevitable. Perhaps the most promising new musical the 99-seat arena has produced since “The Behavior of Broadus,” if not “Louis and Keely: Live at the Sahara,” “Recorded in Hollywood” seems poised to go the full “Jersey Boys” meets “Memphis” commercial distance. Meanwhile, it’s a rocking, relevant good time.
“Recorded in Hollywood,” Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends May 17. $30. (323) 960-4443 or www.RecordedInHollywood.com. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes.