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GrooveLily -- Valerie Vigoda, Brendan Milburn, and Gene Lewin -- in the world premiere musical "Wheelhouse" at TheatreWorks. Photo credit: Mark Kitaoka/TheatreWorks

The road to hell is paved with recreational vehicles in "Wheelhouse" -- a new autobiographical musical from the indie pop rock trio GrooveLily, who ignited the TheatreWorks stage with the incandescent "Striking 12" back in 2004.

A road trip meets coming-of-age tale, "Wheelhouse" charts the life of the band from the time Valerie Vigoda, Brendan Milburn and Gene Lewin first jammed together to the worst decision they ever made. That fateful chapter in their lives involves selling everything they owned and hitting the road in a "pre-enjoyed" Winnebago with a bottomless gas tank and a busted carburetor.

The freewheeling 90-minute musical feels like a work in progress in which the concert elements are smooth sailing but the dialogue hits a few potholes. The bandmates play themselves with candor and humor and insight, but the musical, which has a minimalist concertlike staging, lacks narrative drive.

Make no mistake: As a band, GrooveLily rocks as hard as ever with its irresistibly quirky sound, but the narrative spins its wheels.

Life on the road started out like a bohemian dream and ended up a grind. Eating at greasy spoons, playing gigs in church basements and laundromats, racing down one stretch of asphalt after another, Vigoda starts to suspect they are running away from their destiny.

She's the ambitious one, a gifted electric violinist who's willing to slave away to get the band to the big time. She also secretly wants to settle down and have a baby with her bandmate and husband Brendan (the keyboardist), but he's too in love with his vagabond dream of seeing the country up close to notice. He's the sort who's brimming with wacky schemes, such as dressing the band up as superheroes or wearing roller skates in concert.

Gene, the unflappable drummer, doesn't ask for much. He just wants to get out of the RV, get his drum back (churches make him play his knees because the drums are too "intense") and move back home to Brooklyn to see his girlfriend. He's also getting a little tired being the wingman to a married couple who call all the shots.

All of the issues the trio struggles with, from selling out to setting down roots, strike universal chords. They capture the challenge of reconciling youthful dreams with adult compromises. And they are uniformly likable and witty on stage.

But the journey these offbeat characters go on holds few surprises. Sometimes it's like a family album for the life of the band in which there are too many details and not enough revelation. The repeated game-show shtick is also a drag, and the cast doesn't etch the show's bit parts (truck stop waitresses, car salesmen and such) with much gusto.

As a result, "Wheelhouse" sputters in between infectious tunes such as "Open Roads," "Sing My Song" and "Day of Reckoning." There are also numerous odes to highways that are all quite memorable.

The enchantment of the songs is a double-edged sword, because the tunes are so blissfully well-crafted they point up the flaws in the story arc. There's too much buildup to the band's eventual meltdown and not enough explosiveness when we get there. We also never get a palpable sense of what was so awful about racing across the country in that beat-up Winnebago. If director Lisa Peterson can find a way to convey the tight spaces, bad food and frayed nerves more deeply, the plot would have more horsepower.

Apparently, life in the used RV was so dreadful that the band almost broke up, Valerie and Brendan almost got divorced, and the music was nearly not enough to hold them together. But that sense of gravity doesn't come across here. Instead it feels as if the band has shied away from some of the darker memories in favor of a breezy romp, which is fun but not quite fulfilling dramatically.

By contrast, "Striking 12," which riffed on the lore of the little match girl, had a richness of narrative that grounded the music in timeless themes. Here, it's the score that steals the show not the characters.

The director does keep the tempo supercharged, and the band can definitely bring it on musically, but "Wheelhouse" hasn't yet found it groove.

Contact Karen D'Souza at 408-271-3772. Read her stories at www.mercurynews.com/karen-dsouza and follow her at Twitter.com/KarenDSouza4.

'WHEELHOUSE'

Created by and starring Gene Lewin, Brendan Milburn and Valerie Vigoda of GrooveLily

Through: July 1
Where: Mountain View
Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission)
Tickets: $19 to $69,
650-463-1960,
www.theatreworks.org