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'That Lovin' Feelin' ': Jukebox musical plays like a love song to the Righteous Brothers

'That Lovin' Feelin' ': Jukebox musical plays like a love song to the Righteous Brothers
Morgan Lauff plays a young Bill Medley and Brenden MacDonald isBobby Hatfield in "That Lovin' Feelin'," the Group Rep's new jukebox musical about the Righteous Brothers. (Doug Engalla)

When they first burst onto the scene in the 1960s, Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield, a.k.a. the Righteous Brothers, faced an unusual problem: White radio stations boycotted their brand of blue-eyed soul, while black stations were hostile to a pair of Caucasian kids from Orange County who had adopted their sound.

Of course, the decades have proved the duo's durability. Now, James A. Zimmerman's musical "That Lovin' Feelin'," in its West Coast premiere at the Group Rep, reacquaints audiences with the Righteous Brothers' oeuvre.

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Musically, this is rousing stuff that will set toes tapping. But as far as jukebox musicals go, "Jersey Boys" this ain't. Zimmerman's narrative framework may provide sufficient excuse to revisit hit tunes, but its basic structure is flimsy -- more a cardboard box than the elegant scaffolding required for the Brothers' lapidary music.

The show opens as an older Bill Medley (mellow-voiced Paul Cady, who also serves as the show's musical director) is interviewed by a young journalist (Sarah Karpeles), who begins her line of questioning with "Where did it all start?" -- a clunky device at best that sparks an unchained recapitulation of his career.

Young Hatfield (Brenden MacDonald) is portrayed as a flagrantly self-destructive diva, and young Medley (Morgan Lauff) seems relatively saintly. The show -- presumably written after the death of Hatfield in 2003 -- often seems more a hagiography than a balanced biography.

Fortunately, director Jules Aaron's casting of Lauff and MacDonald is inspired. Although they may occasionally strain for that tip-top note or that bottom basso tone, the actors can really rock the house. They alone are richly worth a look-see.

"That Lovin' Feelin'," the Group Rep at Lonny Chapman Theatre, 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Feb. 7. $25. (818) 763-5990. www.thegrouprep.com. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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