If even the title "Life Could Be a Dream" gets a song stuck in your head, the doo-wop musical opening Center Repertory Company's season is already doing its job.

The name is taken from the most memorable lyric in "Sh-Boom," a 1954 Top 10 hit for both the Chords and the Crew-Cuts, and the show is packed with other period hits, including "Earth Angel," "Runaround Sue," "Unchained Melody" and "Duke of Earl."

Writer-director Roger Bean specializes in exactly this kind of jukebox musical -- a fictional story built around the popular music of a particular era. He's best known for the ubiquitous girl-group celebration "The Marvelous Wonderettes" and its holiday-themed sequel "Winter Wonderettes," both of which are in regular rotation in theaters around the Bay Area. But Bean has cranked out many such popsicals, including "Route 66," "Summer of Love," "Honky Tonk Laundry," "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" and "The Andrews Brothers."

KEVIN BERNE/CENTER REPERTORY COMPANYMeet Denny and the Dreamers, the fictional vocal group at the center of "Life Could Be a Dream." Performers
KEVIN BERNE/CENTER REPERTORY COMPANY Meet Denny and the Dreamers, the fictional vocal group at the center of "Life Could Be a Dream." Performers are, from left, Denny (played by Ryan Drummond), Skip (Derek Keeling) Wally (Jerry Lee) and Eugene (Tim Homsley). ( crc )

"Life Could Be a Dream," which premiered in 2009 and has been retooled for a possible off-Broadway run (with co-producer Jonathan Reinis, a Tony-winner for Broadway's "Pippin" revival), is in fact a sort of spinoff of 1999's "Marvelous Wonderettes." The fictional band at the heart of "Dream," Denny and the Dreamers, is made up of former members of a high school vocal group referenced in the earlier show. Basically, we've already met the girl group, so now it's time to meet the boys.

The cast features a number of familiar faces from past Center Rep musicals: Ryan Drummond ("She Loves Me"), Tim Homsley ("Xanadu" and "Spring Awakening") and Sharon Rietkerk ("Xanadu" and "Rumors"). Co-star Jerry Lee has been seen just down the hall of Walnut Creek's Lesher Center in Contra Costa Musical Theatre's "Les Miserables" and Diablo Theatre Company's "Shrek."


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And reality TV fans may recognize the fourth dreamer, Derek Keeling, as the third-place finisher of "Grease: You're the One That I Want," NBC's audience-voted competition to cast the Broadway revival of "Grease." (He eventually played the male lead late in the run.)

The plot is negligible: It's 1963 in "Springfield, USA," and a local radio station is sponsoring a band competition with a recording contract as the price. Denny, a socially awkward layabout who lives in his mother's basement (a nicely kitsch-cluttered set by Michael Carnahan), is sure he's going to win with the help of his even more geeky friends. Drummond is an entertainingly cocky and curmudgeonly Denny, nicely matched with Homsley's amusingly nervous-nebbish Eugene and Lee's sweetly goofy Wally.

They decide they need a sponsor, a thin pretext to bring in an outside influence to smoothen the threesome's rough edges. We never see the auto shop owner backing the group, but representing him are handsome mechanic Skip Henderson, "a grease monkey from the wrong side of the tracks," and the boss's beautiful daughter, Lois. Of course all the guys go gaga for Rietkerk's sunny Lois, immaculately styled in fetching period outfits by costumer Bobby Pearce.

But she only has eyes for the coolly subdued Skip and insists he join up as the group's missing ingredient.

Performed at times as much for comedy as melodiousness, the vocals are strong, especially in the harmonies (music directed by Brandon Adams). Everyone's given a chance to shine a little, even if they're singing to prerecorded music that's often muffled in Jeff Mockus' sound design. Lee Martino's choreography captures the cute little synchronized dance moves typical of early '60s singing groups.

Keeling's Skip is so understated that he doesn't particularly stand out vocally, so it's hard to buy the premise that the group would be lost without him. In fact the stakes feel pretty low throughout, for both the competition and the romance. After all, the whole play is ultimately just band practice in a basement. It's lightweight entertainment, but it gets the job done, assuming the job is to deliver the hits of yesteryear in an appealing and amusing package. That's what a Roger Bean show is all about.

Contact Sam Hurwitt at shurwitt@gmail.com, and follow him at Twitter.com/shurwitt.

'LIFE COULD BE A DREAM'

By Roger Bean, presented by Center Repertory Company

Through: Oct. 5
Where: Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: 2 hours, one intermission
Tickets: $37-$66; 925-943-7469, www.centerrep.org