Kristin Hanggi rides a wave from Broadway to Vegas with Surf the Musical
Kristin Hanggi, director of Planet Hollywood Resort’s song-and-dance Beach Boys homage Surf the Musical, turned her tendency to daydream into a career that led to a Tony nomination for her work on the ’80s-themed Broadway smash Rock of Ages. “As a kid, one of my favorite things to do was to play records and visualize the stories that went along with those songs,” she recalls. “I remember doing this from a very early age—when the only albums I had were Disney albums!”
Her innocent beginnings led to early success in Los Angeles with the musical Bare before she took a story about a small town girl and boy on the Sunset Strip to the stage in 2005. Rock of Ages resonated with audiences nostalgic for ’80s hair metal and fist-pumping gang choruses, so much so that Broadway (and later Hollywood) beckoned. That music was the soundtrack to Hanggi’s childhood, but the Beach Boys’ harmonies were also often heard in the household thanks to her mother, who was a big fan.
“In fact, I remember finding a cassette of their greatest hits at (age) 7,” Hanggi says. “I wore it out playing it over and over again. So, I’ve always known their classics—but what doing this show did was get me deeper into their lesser-known songs. I gave myself an education on their entire body of work.”
Surf the Musical clearly demonstrates an understanding of the music of the Beach Boys’ main composer and arranger, Brian Wilson, with the musical’s author drawing upon songs that are reverently regarded by fans. “That was exactly the intention,” Hanggi says. “We wanted to give the hits for everyone who loved the hits, but we wanted to give the ability for audience members to go deeper if that’s the experience they were looking for. Jason Setterlund, the book writer, had a deep reverence for the Beach Boys and a deep understanding of their catalog.”
The story line is inspired by “That’s Not Me,” a song from the critically acclaimed 1966 album Pet Sounds, with young heartthrob Tanner (Marshal Kennedy Carolan) returning from the big city to romance old flame Brooke (Lauren Zakrin) and square off with ex-bandmate Rip (Alex Ringler). With Adrian Zmed as wise surf shop owner Nick and an exuberant cast, Wilson’s songs provide a framework for a fantasy about fast times, faster cars, surfer girls and the warmth of the sun.
There’s also an amazing backdrop of high-definition video screens that alternates elements of beach life with vivid pop art imagery, as well as a live band that stays “very true to the Beach Boys arrangements, while also finding ways to complement the dancing and the live show aspect,” says Hanggi, who notes that she came in a little later for Surf than she did for Rock of Ages.
“… The fun I had was taking my experience, and helping to shape this,” she adds. “Also, this show—because the music is so beloved—is much different in tone. With every show, the music is the guide and it tells you what to do.”