By Tina Arth
I always expect to be impressed by the quality of Broadway Rose productions, yet their current offering still surprised me. Like many of their shows on the smaller New Stage, Beehive isn’t really a play, it’s a concert garbed in a thin wraparound story, but this is by no means a criticism. During the brief narrative moments (and the two songs specifically written for the musical) I was chafing for them to get back to the meat of the production – a 5-piece band and 6 female vocalists delivering stunningly accurate renditions of all or part of 39 popular songs from the 1960s. Despite its name, the show is much more than a parody of the exaggerated hairstyles, wardrobes, kitsch and melodrama of artists like Shirley Ellis, Leslie Gore, Connie Francis, and the Shangri-Las.
Like the decade on which it is based, Beehive is divided into two sharply different segments. Act I reflects the innocent optimism attributed to the early ‘60s, with silly or self-absorbed numbers like “The Name Game,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and the triumphantly petty “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” Following intermission (which comes much too soon) the tone, much like the decade, is transformed. The harsh realities of the Kennedy assassination and civil rights movement contribute to darker moods and heavier themes, moving inexorably toward an awesome rendition of Janis Joplin’s “Ball and Chain.”
The 6 women who bring it (literally) to the stage are unbelievable. Their timing and harmonies are sharp, and they manage to emulate the original artists respectfully, lapsing only rarely into parody (sorry, Annette!). Narrator Alyssa Birrer sets the tone for both acts, as the audience’s cheerleader for “The Name Game” and opening Act II with the somber predictions of “The Beat Goes On.” Kayla Dixon has fun spoofing Annette Funicello and playing with Diana Ross’ well-known ego during the Supremes medley, but tears our hearts and hers out in the Tina Turner medley.
Andrea Enright masters several ‘60s genres including the haunting melodrama of “Remember” and the bubble-gum self-absorption of “It’s My Party” and “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” Her “You Don’t Own Me” is a wonder of nascent feminism, and she demonstrates the depth of her vocal soul in the “Natural Woman”/”Do Right Woman” medley. Malia Tippetts demonstrates a truly remarkable vocal (and acting) range: unbearably perky in “My Boyfriend’s Back,” dripping with pathos in “I’m Sorry,” channeling Petula Clark in “Don’t Sleep In the Subway,” then dragging us into the reality of racism with an exquisite “Society’s Child.” Janis Ian would be proud.
Two performers, Antonia Darlene and Kristen Calvin, ultimately dominate the show with their work in Act II. Darlene’s “Respect” demands the audience cheering it receives, and her part of the “Natural Woman”/”Do Right Woman” medley is earthshaking – the perfect set-up for the final Janis Joplin medley. When Kristen Calvin first appears on stage in her Joplinesque hippie attire and exaggeratedly wild hair, the audience succumbs to brief moments of laughter; as a serious aficionado I was mildly annoyed by the sense of parody - then she launched herself into “Piece of My Heart” and I knew all was well. By the end of “Ball and Chain” I was swept up in the excitement that brought the audience to its feet to honor the 6 women (and Jeffrey Childs’ band) for a tour de force that transcends nostalgia. My only real complaint is that this was not a “real” concert, so we couldn’t clap and scream for encores.
Director Sharon Maroney, choreographer Dan Murphy, and costume designer Brynne Oster-Bainnson can bask in their successful recreation of so many iconic moments from one of our nation’s most turbulent and creative eras. Seats are going fast, so buy your tickets soon!
Beehive is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, May 14th.