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By Dianne R. Davis
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Photos by Dianne or Burt Davis

RJ Durell doesn't look old enough to have any recollections of the 60's, yet here is this charming guy with the kid-next-door looks talking about the Beach Boys, the inspiration for Surf The Musical which will have it's soft opening this month at Planet Hollywood.

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R.J. Durell and Dianne Davis

Surf the Musical, Las Vegas’ hottest new musical extravaganza, will transport audiences back to the magic of the early 1960's and the sweet sounds of summer enhanced by such memorable Beach Boy hits as “California Girls,” “Help Me, Rhonda,” “I Get Around,” “Fun, Fun, Fun,” “God Only Knows,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and many more.

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Surf The Musical with the music of the Beach Boys

Following a press preview spotlighting some of the numbers from this new musical, I had a chance to speak one on one with the man who brought his extensive choreographic skills to this ambitious feel-good production. I remember the 60's and the music of the Beach Boys, but  RJ wasn't born then.  His credentials are impressive though. After dancing in movies and on Broadway, RJ established himself as one of the industry's most diverse choreographers and has worked with many of the world's premiere artists including Madonna, Katy Perry, Britney Spears, Celine Dion, and Ricky Martin. His extensive resume includes live tours, musicals, television, commercials, and feature films.

But I was still looking at a kid who wasn't there then. So, how, I asked, did he find his inner 60's?

“I have a two part answer,” he told me.  “I watched all those You tube videos and all the movies from the 60's.  Anything I could find that had dance in it. American Bandstand... I was even watching West Side Story because that's such an iconic choreographic genius from the 1960's so even though I knew that stylistically that  movement wasn't what I was going to be doing, I wanted to feel the heart and soul of what was the best of  the 60's in choreography. So I gathered all of my resources that way and I watched those and … I just feel it.  My filter is so much through movement. There's was such a sense of freedom and abandon to the way that they would dance and the way they would move.”

“The second part of how I found my inner 60's is that as a choreographer, the first thing that inspires me is the music.  So the Beach Boys are how I found my heart and soul.  The first  thing I do when I do my choreography is to listen to the song repeatedly.  Like I might hear it 60 times before I make up the moves so I feel the energy that they were exuding thorough their songs. I would take that on and wrap myself in in and use that as my foundation for the movement.

What excites you  about this show? I asked.

“This is a great opportunity for me to give a calling card for the Beach Boys through the movement and choreography.”

RJ is “thrilled to bring new life to the iconic Beach Boys music through dance by creating a synergy between modern day pop movement and classic 1960s dances." He  calls working with director Kristin Hanggi, “an absolute dream.”

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And why, I asked, is this show important?  He was immediate with his response.  “This will help expand what people think of live entertainment in Vegas.”

Surf the Musical performs nightly (dark Thursdays) starting June 22  at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino. Show times are 7:00 p.m. except Saturdays at 5:30 p.m., with additional performances onTuesdays and Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are priced at $144, $104, $84 and $64, excluding taxes and fees and can be purchased in person at the Planet Hollywood Showroom Box Office, online at www.surfthemusical.com and www.ticketmaster.com or by phone at (800) 745-3000. To purchase tickets.
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