By Tina Arth and Darrell Baker
Broadway Rose General Manager Dan Murphy freely admits that at least once each season this venerable musical theater troupe takes on a light-hearted, fun show that is more concert than drama – in the vein of Jersey Boys or Forever Plaid. The current production of The Bikinis, A New Musical Beach Party is a clear example, and yet authors Ray Roderick and Jay Hindman sneak in a few surprising moments that give the audience a glimpse of the world beyond the antics of Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello’s Beach Blanket Bingo.
The storyline is appropriately thin, befitting what is essentially a musical review. In 1964, four bikini-clad girls win the Belmar Beach Talent Contest, and become The Bikinis, one-hit wonders of the Jersey shore. After several years playing every birthday party, wedding, bar mitzvah, and mall opening in the greater Paramus area, the group inevitably breaks up, and the four young women go their separate ways. Fast forward to 1999, when a condo developer is offering the residents of the Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort, including group member Annie, $250,000 each to sell out. The Bikinis reunite for one concert to support the trailer park residents as they prepare to vote on the developer’s offer (fiercely opposed by erstwhile Bikini and park resident Annie, fiercely supported by her sister and fellow singer Jodi). How does the vote come out? You’ll have to see the show – it’s a real sandy cliffhanger!
Of course, this is Broadway Rose, so the audience is treated to four superb vocalists (Laurie Campbell-Leslie, Lisamarie Harrison, Sharon Maroney, and Emily Sahler) supported by four hot musicians (Jeffrey Childs, Gary Irvine, Justin Jude Carroll, and Fletcher Nemeth). The beautiful solo performances and smooth, powerful harmonies evoke the best of the ‘60s girl-group era, illustrate the late ‘60s transition to more socially conscious, hippie-driven themes, and end with popular music’s (from our perspective, tragic) devolution to disco. Despite the fact that the Bikinis no longer sport their teenage beach bodies (and are, happily, clad in less revealing attire) the four women not only retain their vocal chops, they also nimbly and playfully master the choreography of long-lost dance moves like The Swim, The Twist, The Pony, and The Mashed Potato (we even think we saw a trace of The Jerk!).
Of the 30+ musical numbers, special highlights include “Under the Boardwalk”, “These Boots are Made for Walkin’”(a hysterical send-up of a song we love to hate), “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma” and “When Will I Be Loved.” However, the strongest moments in the show revolve around the second-act Vietnam era pictorial montage and associated songs. The poignant rendition of Bobby Darin’s “Simple Song of Freedom” with its accompanying narrative gives the audience a frisson of nostalgia for deep wounds and innocence lost, while “Dedicated to the One I Love” (against a visual background of soldiers and their loved ones) brought the opening night audience near tears and captured the most enthusiastic applause of the evening.
The beautiful set (who woulda thought a trailer park could be pretty?), clever lighting, seamless special video effects, and flawless sound combine to support the concert-like feel of the evening. Director Jacob Toth and Musical Director Jeffrey Childs make the most of the amazing talent at their disposal, giving the audience exactly what it wants – a fun and sometimes wistful journey into a cherished past.
The Bikinis is playing at the Broadway Rose New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through May 18th. Date, time, and ticket information is available at the website, www.broadwayrose.org.