Musical ‘Surf’ is bet worthy of high rollers

I’ve never been to the World Series of Poker. And like most of the other looky-loos, I just sneak a peek inside the high-limit salon casinos. But boy, did I meet some gamblers last week.

The three producers of “Surf the Musical,” a new Beach Boys-themed musical launching June 19 at Planet Hollywood Resort, are of the “Go big or go home” school. On Tuesday, they stood in front of a stage glowing from the high-definition video screen that spans the width of it, talking about one costume that turned out to be “the $1,400 bikini.”

J. Burton Gold’s background is in real estate and landscape design. But he saw the Beach Boys in Long Beach, Calif., in 2008 and “it just hit me. I was just having such a great time listening to the wonderful iconic music. … I just had the idea, just like a light came on, to bring the songs to life (on a stage).”

The next day began the seven- or eight-month process of procuring the group’s catalog rights for “a jukebox musical.” At some point in that process, Gold discovered there had already been one: The short-lived “Good Vibrations” on Broadway in 2005.

“It was very painful for me to even watch it (on video),” Gold says. “It was so totally Broadway. I’m sure they had their love of what they were doing (but) everything about it was done the way I wouldn’t have visualized or done it.”

Gold and Jason Setterlund, his son-in-law and first-time scenarist, began co-writing their version and figuring out the puzzle of which songs from nearly 200 choices would fit their story. Two of Gold’s golf buddies signed on as co-producers: Michael Ingram, an importer and wholesaler of fireworks, and Skip Klintworth, with a career in e-commerce.

Fast-forward to Tuesday, where they are surrounded by the A-list creative team they assembled, including director Kristin Hanggi, hot from Broadway with “Rock of Ages.”

It’s been a long time since anyone but Cirque du Soleil has stepped up with a big-league gamble on the $10 million-plus level. But as I suppose it is with all big gamblers, these three don’t seem caught up in second guessing. They’re in this “Surf” too deep for that. Gold still speaks more like a fan than the person who adds up the bills.

“That’s my dream, it’s to make you feel good and remember the times you could fix a car with a screwdriver,” says the guy who was there to see surf bands – maybe even the earliest version of the Beach Boys – at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, Calif., in 1961.

“I wish I’d been doing this for 50 years,” he says. “I love my development business and my design business, but this is everything. Once you endeavor to do something like this, I think you can never go back.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at or 702-383-0288.

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