I get it, a show (ok, a musical revue) identified with a horrific hairstyle won’t challenge us with dramatic plot twists or Sondheim-esque mystique. But after a summer which literally seemed to come from hell, we go back to the era where A/C was invented, peace and love was the rage, and some of the most enduring music ever played on the radio shaped the American experience in “Beehive,” at NextStop Theatre in Herndon, VA. In fact, although the beehive hairdo has now become an icon of kitsch, in the late 50s and early 60s it was the in thing, the height of fashion. This lookback show is a panorama of classic songs that are given in rapid-fire fashion, creating a vocal montage of that turbulent era.
Beehive landed off-Broadway in 1986 as a fun musical vehicle, the brainchild of creator (and booking agent) Larry Gallagher. While the span of the piece is the 1960s, it is hard to nail down the edges of this period. There are many underlining questions about the harsh realities of the time, and there is a suggestion of a societal transition through the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the acceleration of the Vietnam War to the music that came out the other side.
So, let’s just enjoy the music.
The buzz about beehive is that it is an all-female cast, taking turns interpreting some of the famous female performers of the 60s. And we have assembled a sixsome that is very comfortable interpreting songs and characters in a cabaret setting.
Of course, that leaves out the male performers, giving a skewed view of the decade, as we slowly see through a bit of narration that it is the coming of age of women. Rebecca Ballinger leads off in a haunting “It’s My Party” and other light bobby sox songs continue. When the “Name Game” came up, with audience participation, I was hoping they seated any Chucks in the back rows…
Hilary Morrow got into the fun with a soulful rendition of Leslie Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” and later had fun with a sultry effort of “Son of a Preacher Man.”
Allison Bradbury stood out with her ease of effort in the tearful classic “Will you still Love Me Tomorrow” and in the later Woodstock years, giving us some funky Janis Joplin rags and attitude in “Cry Baby” and “Me and Bobby McGee.” More tonal than an impersonation, she displayed solid range and needed bite.
This production is a surprisingly refreshing treat that is easy to enjoy.
Bethel Elias plays a fine support role in several songs and in Act 2 is the wide-eyed hippie who takes us through the tumultuous times of the late 60s. As a recent Catholic University grad, she brings a youthful perspective to the show. Act 1 ends with the sobering “Abraham, Martin and John” reflecting our loss of these leaders and our innocence.
Act 2 is memorable for the featured work of Shayla Lowe performing Tina Turner’s “Proud Mary” with controlled combustion, and Kaylie Gross giving us Aretha Franklin, performing several of her hits with powerful resonance, invoking Aretha’s range and intensity. Ballinger is a standout on stage and comes back to rock us with a gritty “Somebody to Love,” showing her range. The chick power was evident on stage as was the simple, effective choreography, navigating steps and levels in the smallish stage at the theatre. Choreographer Shalyce Hemby has incorporated some 60s era movement into the revue while working to make the ensemble comfortable with simple stylization. Varied costume changes kept show relevant and Sandra Spence fit the bill as Costume Designer. Director Monique Midgette and the creative team have blending girl power, great music, and great energy. This production is a surprisingly refreshing treat that is easy to enjoy.
In the end, it’s all about “Make Your Own Kind of Music.”
Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes with an intermission
“Beehive” is presented by the NextStop Theatre Company, 269 Sunset Park Drive, Herndon VA, from August 22 to September 22, 2019. For tickets to other performances in the 2019 or’20 season, call the information line at (703) 471-4494 or online.