by Tracey Paleo, Gia On The Move

Three hours to tell this biographical story wasn’t really needed. But the drawn out length bridged the cold Christmas night of a mostly quiet, shut-down town. And it was more than enough fun watching at least half the audience around me (including my mother) bopping and swaying to the music of home-grown Los Angeles area music duo, The Righteous Brothers sung by actors Morgan Lauff, Brenden MacDonald and Paul Cady, in Group Rep‘s production of, That Lovin’ Feelin’ at the Lony Chapman Theatre, North Hollywood, CA.

They nailed it!!!

“This is my generation and I’m telling you these guys are great!” is the emphatic assurance I got.  No argument there.  Every time actors Lauff and MacDonald got on stage as the historic duo and Cady as the older version of his character Bill Medley,  it was like being inserted into the front row of a 1960s concert venue, audience cries, screams and cheers included (provided by the sound booth every time the boys came on stage).  

Physically and vocally Lauff and MacDonald master the roles of the R&B California native sons Billy Medley (Lauff) and Bobby Hatfield (MacDonald), who struggled early in their career for being the white boys who sounded black in an era and genre, de facto-dominated especially on the air waves by African-American talent. Reverse racism (no radio station will play them because they’re white and singing R&B and “nobody likes Jews”)  momentarily punctuates the beginning of this script but quickly loses any potency once the sound power of the “Brothers” is unleashed onto to the public.  Teens being teens, simply did what teens do – run down to a record store (then) and buy thousands of copies of a song they like and created an instant smash hit and a truism that no one in music could ever deny again – The Righteous Brothers simply had “blue-eyed” soul.

Glitches abounded right from the get-go for these two including, Medley’s control issues, Hatfield’s stage fright, even their stage name (originally part of a five-member group called The Paramours, Medley and Hatfield adopted the name The Righteous Brothers when they embarked on their recording career from 1963 through 1975 as a duo being sermonized by none other than Billy Graham who didn’t appreciate the language of “the Lord” being appropriated for love songs and doowop.  But there by the grace of God everyone else who was a music fan went, once their  signature hit That Lovin’ Feelin’ landed.  The pairing of their extreme range of  low bass-baritone (Medley) and high register countertenor (Hatfield) voices, the gorgeous melodies, the authenticity and passion, even Hatfield’s dirty humor was a triumph in every utterance.

Oddly enough though, fame never seemed to satisfy Hatfield who felt more and more pushed to the background except on solo bouts and never stopped being a thorn for Medley who by the stress of the complaints and uncontrollable public dialogs and outlandish interviews, eventually took a nervous breakdown and had to be hospitalized for months, nearly putting out a flame only freshly lit.

Although the duo continued to perform until Hatfield’s death in 2003, not even the power of passionate supporters and music powerhouses Ray Maxwell, Jerry Perenchio, husband and wife songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil who wrote some of their best pieces, the Sinatra approved Vegas appearances, or constantly scheming, visionary, play-maker, Phil Spector their industry champion could save the day. The Righteous Brothers, though not their music, go dark.

The music itself and delivery by the boys (all three) is so fine, so breathtaking, I would advise seeing this piece for that alone, except there is the added bonus of a seriously awesome live band amping it up that much more. The narrative as a multi-decade stitched together drama, drags and the interview process is ever so uneventful, not helped by the fact that the reporter doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic about her enthusiasm for a story.

No matter. The cast is 100% dependably talented in the singing dept. There’s a firecracker or two dance-wise which was pretty exciting as well.   And That Lovin’ Feelin’ has serious mac-daddy mojo for the generation that loved these guys the most. For the rest of us who grew up in the afterglow, it’s an opportunity to take a look back at two regular guys with incredible voices who made magic for a lot of people.

Now playing until January 24, 2016

Written by James A. Zimmerman
Directed by Jules Aaron
Musical Direction by Paul Cady
Music Advisor Richard Levinson
Choreography by Michele Bernath

Photo (above) by Doug Engalla: Morgan Lauff and Brenden MacDonald as The Righteous Brothers in That Lovin’ Feelin