‘Good Vibrations’ Review: The Saving Power of Punk

On a nighttime street in 1970s Belfast, Northern Ireland, a D.J. named Terri Hooley runs into a pair of local toughs — young men who’ve found their purpose in the gunfire and explosions of a sectarian conflict pitting Protestants against Catholics.

That strife defines everything around Terri, but his life’s meaning comes from music: the Hank Williams songs of his childhood; the rock and reggae that became his soundtrack later on.

“Do your feet a favor,” he tells the toughs. “Take them dancing, like you used to.”

Is it bad to call a punk rock musical charming? I hope not, because “Good Vibrations” — a biomusical about the real Terri Hooley, who became the idealistic, stalwart champion of Belfast’s nascent punk scene — absolutely is. Directed by Des Kennedy for the Lyric Theater, Belfast, it portrays music as a defiantly joyous refuge from ugliness and danger. Far from romanticizing mayhem, it presents Northern Irish punk as a youthful life force in opposition to it.

Adapted by Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson from their 2012 film of the same name, “Good Vibrations” (not to be confused with the Broadway jukebox musical also of the same name, set to Beach Boys tunes) transports the movie’s righteous sense of pleasure and freedom to the stage at Irish Arts Center, in Manhattan.

Glen Wallace stars as Terri, a stubborn dreamer with zero business sense who opens a record shop, Good Vibrations, in Belfast’s city center — and makes a deal with fighters on both sides that they will leave him alone. Soon he’s putting out records by local punk bands, because no one else will, and promoting them to the world. His marriage to the lovely Ruth Carr (Jayne Wisener) suffers for it; his passion is consumed by the shop and the punks.

Terri’s bands — Rudi, the Outcasts, the Undertones — don’t snarl in their rebellion, though. They’re sunnier than that, and so is this show. It’s also a little chaotic, as befits Terri’s life, and not always as clear as it needs to be. It could be that its creators are inhibited by the ethical obligations of telling a story inspired by real people. Still, this is a tonic of a musical.

Grace Smart’s set makes clever use of instrument cases, Gillian Lennox’s period costumes are impeccable and the use of music as underscore can be hauntingly gorgeous. (The musical director is Katie Richardson.) In a cast that does a lot of doubling, Marty Maguire is a protean standout as Terri’s socialist dad and several other characters.

As much as “Good Vibrations” is about Terri, its ultimate hero might be music itself, in whose saving, salving power he believes unwaveringly.

“This is missionary work,” Terri says, in his D.J. days.

So it is. Preach.

Good Vibrations
Through July 16 at Irish Art Center, Manhattan; irishartscenter.org. Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

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