Newport Beach Composer Joseph Mulroy’s Musical about OC Surfers Gets Full Staging at Irvine Valley College through April 14

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(L to R): Ruby DeKeyser (Bunny), Stephen Goeres-Hill (Surfer), James Farol (Tom Bannick/Surfer), Autumn Havlik (Bunny), Charlie Alvarez (Surfer), Jose Herrera Pena (Surfer), Ryland Henderson (Bunny) in “Surfin Days” at Irvine Valley College.

Orange County has long been a hotbed of surfing culture. Huntington Beach has the moniker Surf City. Newport Beach has the infamous Wedge. Even San Clemente has its surf spots.

One city often overlooked in surfing lore is Dana Point, but the city has a rich surfing history dating back to the 1930s. That history came to an abrupt end in the early 60s when the city of Dana Point decided to destroy the legendary “Killer Dana” surf spot at Dana Cove and have the Army Corps of Engineers construct Dana Point Harbor.

Sounds like fodder for a movie, or maybe a play.

That’s what Newport Beach resident Joseph Mulroy, a pianist and composer, thought nearly three decades ago. He took the Dana Point plot and turned it into a musical called “Surfin’ Days” that is having its premiere at Irvine Valley College Performing Arts Center through April 14.

According to information from Irvine Valley college, “Surfin’ Days” has “a score that evokes the myth and romance of a carefree endless summer,” while the story depicts “a tribe of mavericks during one life-changing weekend and looks back with humor and soul-searching fondness at the way things will never be again.”

The term “premiere” may be misleading, as Mulroy’s musical has had other stagings dating back to 1997, when Newport Theatre Arts Center hosted the initial production, then called “Surfstory.”

The cast of “Surfin Days” at Irvine Valley College.

As L.A. Times theater reviewer Robert Koehler noted at the time, “Surfstory” blended “classical forms of the old-fashioned musical with a fresh, natural and local subject–the mid-’60s transformation of surfers’ paradise Dana Point Cove into a marina and how the surfers reacted.”

With music and lyrics by Mulroy and a book by Craig Lockwood, Koehler said “Surfstory” was “keenly aware that it has the goods to go on to the big leagues yet remains blissfully unpretentious.”

However, Mulroy was not satisfied with the story, so he brought in Mimi Leahey and Harry Nangle to work on the book.

After a number of table readings and workshops, Mulroy and company presented a new version of the show, this time titled “Born to Ride the Waves,” at the Huntington Beach Library theater. Daily Pilot theater critic Tom Titus called the show “a most enjoyable production. Rather than lean on the cliches of the surfing culture, the show gently satirizes them.”

The cast of “Surfin Days” at Irvine Valley College.

After several more productions, including one in North Hollywood, Mulroy still was not satisfied with the results.

“We did not structure the story right, and I thought the stakes were forced. We tried to make a love story the central plot, but it felt false,” explained Mulry during an interview prior to tech week at Irvine Valley College. “So we made the character of Chrissie, the female surfer, more competitive and driven and accomplished, and gave her a couple of the best songs. Everything in this version has been rewritten and repurposed.”

Mulroy kept the setting of the show in 1962 to stay within what he dubbed “the Camelot era. We did not want to get into Vietnam and The Beatles and the Civil Rights movement—all the harsher realities of the 1960s. We wanted to keep the setting in a bubble except for the development aspect, which is the story of California.”

Mulroy’s cast is mainly college age, which fits the surfing theme, although Mulroy said that today’s Gen Z demographic does ask a lot of questions about the 1960s, including the meaning of various words and phrases. Despite that, Mulroy says that he enjoys the questions and that the cast has great instincts.

“They just tear into it,” said Mulroy.

So is Mulroy finally pleased with this version that’s been nearly three decades in the making?

(L to R): Jose Herera Pena, Charlie Alvarez, Stephen Goeres-Hill, James Farol in “Surfin Days” at Irvine Valley College.

“This is the one I am most satisfied with, although I imagine we’ll tighten it after this production, but I am very happy with this version. One thing I am happy about is that we begin and end in present day. In the prologue we see the harbor as is now, and then we travel back in time to Camelot. The design influences of the set are mid-century pop art, and we have a giant video wall to project images.”

Over the years, Mulroy has worked on developing the orchestrations and arrangements, and even the lyrics as needed. Normally Mulroy scored the music for a quartet, but at Irvine Valley College he has the luxury of an eight-piece band, including trumpet and saxophone orchestra, so he’s added those parts to the mix as well as new incidental music.

What’s next for the “Surfin’ Days” saga?

“I have faith that another opportunity will arise,” said Mulroy. “We’ll take what we learn from this, make modifications, and see what happens.”

Until then, don’t miss the Irvine Valley College production of “Surfin’ Days.” For tickets, visit www.IVC.edu/PAC.

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