The ’60s are having a moment right now—the music of the ’60s, at least.
At the same time as the just-opened, Beatles-themed movie Yesterday (see review, page 52) and the ironic use of some choice ’60s anthems on the soundtrack of The Last Black Man In San Francisco, along comes the Cabrillo Stage season opener Beehive.
Subtitled “The ’60s Musical,” the name suggests an homage to the girl groups of that era, which is certainly a major part of the show, especially in its first half. But Beehive also aspires to celebrate a diverse slate of women rockers, from Connie Francis to Aretha to Janis Joplin.
The show was created in 1985 by Larry Gallagher as a nightclub revue, which explains why it’s a bit short on book. When the performers talk onstage, it’s usually in brief snippets of narration setting up the context in which the playlist unspools—over 30 tunes performed with gusto by the six-woman cast.
Director Gary John La Rosa also did the choreography, from demure girl-group syncopation to the butt-shaking gymnastics of Tina Turner. Skip Epperson’s single, functional set consists of vinyl-inspired discs in all colors hanging down from the rafters, and a large round portal draped in shiny fringe through which the performers enter and exit. A six-piece combo appears on a balcony upstage, led by Musical Director Jon Nordgren. The effect is like a giant, sparkly jukebox with live performers providing your hit parade—no quarters necessary.
The show’s first act is structured more or less chronologically, according to musical style—girl groups to Motown to British Invasion. (And kudos to the show’s creators for including three numbers by the wonderful Dusty Springfield in the latter section.) In the more focused second act, individual performers deliver mini-tribute concerts as some of the era’s most iconic artists. Standouts include Kiana Hamzehi’s dazzling Tina Turner, Jennifer Taylor Daniels’ dynamic Aretha Franklin (Daniels also serves as emcee), and Lindsey Chester’s knockout Janis Joplin. (It’s a shame that the tribute to Janis at the Monterey Pop Festival doesn’t include “Ball and Chain.” Maybe they didn’t think it was poppy enough?)
Jessica Pierini delivers the show’s most poignant solo with Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child.” But her outfit (saddle shoes, Catholic school plaid skirt and enormous Minnie Mouse hair bow) doesn’t fit Ian herself, or the era in which the song was written. Another weird disconnect between the costumes and the material is the opening sequence: it’s set squarely in the beehive era (1960-1963), yet costume designer Maria Crush puts the women in dropped-waist dresses and knee-high white vinyl boots from about mid-decade. Shiboune Thill’s wigs tend toward fluffy, Dr. Seussian extravagance, but there’s not a beehive hairdo in the bunch.
It’s also iffy, later on, to present one of the backup singers in “Abraham, Martin, and John” in Carnaby Street garb when the show doesn’t get to the British Invasion until the following segment (although color-blocked Mondrian dresses and hairstyles are perfect in that subsequent sequence). This all may seem nitpicky, but to anyone who actually lived through the ’60s (ahem), there were very distinct fashion trends between one year and the next, which are not always reflected here.
Still, this is a buoyant show, especially for anyone who grew up singing these songs. Sadie Rose and Catarina Contini round out the performing cast. (Among other things, they dance a high-octane version of the Ikettes behind Hamzehi’s Tina.) And all of these women can sing up a storm. Should you feel compelled to join in (and believe me, you will), audience participation is strongly encouraged.
The Cabrillo Stage production of ‘Beehive’ plays through Sunday, July 14, at the Crocker Theater. 479-6154, cabrillostage.com.