Saturday, February 7, 2009

Theater review: '60s rock of 'Beehive' several degrees removed from the real thing

By Hap Erstein

Those who were around in the 1960s probably remember exactly where they were when they heard that John F. Kennedy was shot. Beehive, a musical salute to that tumultuous decade, wants to conjure up more frivolous moments in history. Sure, it acknowledges that November 1963, day when the nation was numbed by an assassin’s bullet, but it seems much more interested in frugging down memory lane, asking us to recall when we first heard Lesley Gore declare It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry If I Want To).

Social significance is largely an afterthought in this golden oldies revue, which defines its era through the pop sounds, the fad dances and the piled-high hairdos of the time. It certainly helps if you were sock hopping during those days — as much of the Maltz Jupiter Theatre’s target audience apparently was — but even those who do not know their Shangri-Las from their Shirelles should gain some enjoyment from the high-energy show.

As a matter of fact, too much awareness of this music and its originating performers might be a drawback at the Maltz. Much of Beehive depends on visual and aural impersonation of the likes of Diana Ross, Connie Francis, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Janis Joplin, skills that the talented six-woman cast falls short of possessing.

Like Respect: A Musical Journey of Women and Shout! The Mod Musical, two similar revues that have saturated the area in recent years, Beehive depends on the nostalgic potency of its play list.

It begins with such novelty numbers as Name Game and Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, then throws in more than a few maudlin songs of teen heartbreak and puppy love (I Sold My Heart to the Junkman, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?), before turning somewhat less frivolous in the second half, just as the ’60s did. Before the evening is over, more than three dozen song hits from the period, played by an enthusiastic five-piece band led by Tom Frey, fill the theater.

The show’s structure, built by Larry Gallagher in the mid-’80s, is basically chronological. Beehive ’dos eventually give way to more natural coifs, just as the trendy pastel fashions get traded in for counter-culture denims. The carefree spirit of Francis' Where the Boys Are turns to social statements like Janis Ian’s Society’s Child.

The decision to focus on an all-female cast means that when the show gets to the British Invasion, it is not The Beatles tunes we hear — though the four moptops get a footnote — but the songs of Dusty Springfield, Lulu and Petula Clark.

The penultimate spot goes to the whiskey-soaked sounds of Joplin, though Bridget Beirne provides a wan replica of the tiny Texas rocker. Lisa Estridge earns a bit more respect for her Aretha and Stacy McCleskey rolls on the river with Turner, but floats into caricature.

Director-choreographer Mark Martino (who elevated last season’s The Boy Friend) knows his ’60s dances, but frantic frugs, watusis and swims are a weak anchor to an evening. Projection designer David Esler supplies some eye-catching effects and costumer Jose M. Rivera has fun winking at the fashions of the era.

If you have seen those other female pop revues, Beehive will feel like more of the same. The cast has the lung power to sell these songs, but their attempts to become the stars of the past fall short on the authenticity scale.

BEEHIVE, Maltz Jupiter Theatre, 1001 E. Indiantown Rd., Jupiter. Through Feb. 22. Tickets: $30-$49. Call: (561) 575-2223.

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