The Rat Pack
The Boomer-inspired version of entertainment, in which a portion of pop culture is regurgitated in two tidy hours, has run amok. This scary subgenre has resulted in no fewer than six network specials about the making of The Brady Bunch, and a slew of musical revues that attempt to recap a decade of music history in the time it takes to, well, watch a TV movie about the making of The Brady Bunch.
The best of these revues is Beehive: The Sixties Musical, which is playing Phoenix for what seems like the dozenth time in a decade. A purported tribute to the girl-group sound, Beehive strays quickly and often into songs sung by nearly every female solo star of the era (probably because Leader of the Pack, a nearly identical program that flopped on Broadway the same year that Beehive debuted, used up all the girl-group numbers of the era). While we begin with the Angels' "My Boyfriend's Back," we wind up at Tina Turner's "Rag Doll" and Mama Casss' "Make Your Own Kind of Music."
Phoenix Theatre's production of this pretty pastiche sparkles like a paste jewel. The tunes are delivered by five gifted singers whose primary responsibility, despite their impressive pipes, is to model an extravagant assortment of glittery costumes and violently campy wigs. There's no book to speak of; between songs, the cast chatters about high school crushes and, in one amusing sequence, creates a fantasy slumber party attended by Lesley Gore, Brenda Lee and Connie Francis. But there's no attempt at placing the songs in a historic context; no mention of the Brill Building or Ellie Greenwich; no homage to Berry Gordy or Gamble and Huff.
But Beehive isn't intended as a musical history lesson. Nor is it meant to be a comedy, though it frequently fumbles for laughs. The show's most sophisticated stabs at humor involve spoofy song setups and silly costume changes. In fact, nearly all of Act One is loopy, while the show's second act is framed by dreary monologues about Vietnam and "the changing times." Act Two is further marred by the absence of Katherine Todd, whose stirring Aretha Franklin impersonation is the highlight of the program. Erahn Patton-Stinson's dead-on Diana Ross is among the more accurate impersonations, and Meloney Collins' sexy vamping on "The Beat Goes On" almost made me forgive the producers for selecting the all-time-worst Cher song of the '60s.
It's hard to know, in a show that's so dependent on costuming and song and dance, how much the director contributed to the production or how much he simply stayed out of the way of some talented performers. In any case, Rick Seeber's production is impeccably staged. Each number comes equipped with choreography, most of which re-creates moves made famous by the performers these women are imitating. The result looks less like a full-blown musical than an Academy Awards show production number, but one that glitters nonetheless. The uncredited set design -- which replicates a great, glowing jukebox -- provides a well-crafted bandstand for musical director Ron Colvard's six-piece band. Marjie Bell's costumes are well thought through, down to shoes and stockings, and the sound, which tweaked the trebles high, was excellent.
Personally, I'd like to see a '60s musical revue devoted to teen girl singers who couldn't sing but had hits, anyway -- kid stars like Patty Duke, Shelley Fabares and Hayley Mills, whose vocal "performances" were patched together electronically and still made the charts. Or maybe a show honoring little-known back-up singers, in which ladies like Jayne Edwards and Cindy Birdsong reprise their famous oohs and aahs for two whole hours.
In the meantime, there's Beehive, an entertaining time capsule that wants us to believe that Lulu was important and that Shirley Ellis would stoop to performing an audience-participation song.
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