“Beehive, the 60’s Musical”

Photos by Jerry Naunheim Jr.

Musical:    “Beehive, the 60’s Musical”

Group:        Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Venue:        Browning Mainstage, Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road

Dates:        Through April 10

Tickets:    From $18.50; contact 314-968-4925 or www.repstl.org

Story:    Named after an infamous hairdo of the era, “Beehive” is a musical revue that looks at the influence of girl groups in the early to mid-1960s and, later, the individual female performers of the latter half of that decade whose dress, hair and music mirrored their generation.  From Brenda Lee, Lesley Gore and Connie Francis to the Supremes, the Shirelles and the Ronettes to Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield to Tina Turner and Janis Joplin, “Beehive” is all about exploring the changing lives of women of that decade through the prism of their music.

Highlights:    Filled with snippets of more than three dozen popular songs of the era as well as two original tunes, “Beehive” is a bright and breezy romp as conceived by Larry Gallagher, whose original production hit the boards way back in 1985.  The Rep’s presentation is directed and choreographed by Pamela Hunt, who utilizes the talents of six singers who enliven proceedings with credible imitations of several prominent artists of the day.

While the entire show is solid and reflects the decade through its music, the second act seems to have more vibrancy and power, reflecting the energy and illumination of singers and/or songwriters such as Joplin, Turner, Aretha Franklin and others.

Other Info:    Although the show as a whole is enjoyable, the first act has a tendency to drag in spots with the sameness of the material selected.  That’s where the value of the imitations comes to the rescue, most notably a fabulous version of Brenda Lee delivered by Kristin Maloney.  Her comic timing and forced warbling on “I’m Sorry” ratchet up a scene where she consoles Lesley Gore (Jessica Waxman), who’s lamenting the defection of her boyfriend in “It’s My Party.”

Themes of broken hearts and the travails of love are more prevalent in the first act, albeit notched up on the style ladder with the arrival of the Supremes led by a limelight-seeking Diana Ross (Jennie Harney).  Lisa Estridge serves loosely as the narrator of this schmaltzy romp, which really takes off with the arrival of the sassy, sexy Tina Turner (Debra Walton) at the start of the second act and then culminates with a simmering rendition of the hard-rockin’ Joplin by Lauren Dragon on numbers such as “Ball and Chain.”

Hunt the director varies the delivery with a series of humorous bits that show off the cast’s comic skills while they hectically adorn a variety of garish wigs and vintage costumes designed by John Carver Sullivan, while Hunt the choreographer puts together some amusing numbers for her sextet to act out their sundry numbers.

The colorful, psychedelic scenic design created by James Morgan is highly reminiscent of the old “Laugh-In” set, complete with the enlarged exclamation point after “Beehive!” that looms above proceedings, and takes on a counter-culture look in the second act.  Mary Jo Dondlinger’s lighting moves from the bright, cheerful look of Act I to match the darker mood of the second, with complementary sound design contributed by Rusty Wandall.

Musical director Michael Sebastian and his on-stage combo get to shine in the second act, with brief bits of individual musicality delivered by saxophonist Mike Buerk and guitarist Steve Schenkel.  There’s other fine work by drummer John Brophy, trumpeter Andy Tichenor, Jay Hungerford on bass and pianist Sebastian.

“Beehive” doesn’t really aspire to be anything more than a collection of pop tunes performed in upbeat and, later, rowdy style, and that’s exactly what it is.  No more and no less.  In two hours, including intermission, it demonstrates the development of pop and rock music, and the women who helped shape that culture, like a sampler of familiar appetizers that fills you up with mostly empty calories of nostalgia.

Rating:        A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.