Photograph by Dave Lepori
Supreme: Adrienne Muller (right), Dawn L. Troupe (left) and Cheryl B. Scales deliver the soul in 'Beehive.'
San Jose Stage takes a trip to the '60s in 'Beehive'
By Marianne Messina
THE NEW SHOW at San Jose Stage Company, Beehive, "the '60s girl group musical," generally plows through one song after another—hits by the Shirelles, the Angels, the Chiffons—in revue fashion, assuming the audience knows the singers and the era. But right from the start, the production, directed by Rick Singleton, provides enough context to equally fascinate those who never set foot in the '60s. Two big screens on either side of the stage flash relevant images, for example, album covers and promo shots of the original girl groups with their cutesy poses, matching outfits, dresses to midknee, hair in actual beehives and flips—a small window on a world of history. When Lydia Lyons sings "Where the Boys Are" in the black wig and busty dress of Connie Francis, the screen displays "the boys," a bunch of Charles Atlas look-alikes on a beach in meager swimwear.
Separating the Brenda Lee crowd from the Grace Slick crowd by an intermission, the musical emphasizes the rapid personality change the decade underwent. Narrator Dawn L. Troupe talks us through the changes as a teenager who considered the girl groups her "big sisters" and dreamed she would someday marry Johnny Mathis. Troupe and the rest of the talented, seven-woman cast take us from song to song with a judicious sprinkle of added dialogue. The formula strikes gold in a funny exchange between the weeping Leslie Gore of "It's My Party" (Tielle Baker in perky, wide swinging dress) and Brenda Lee (Halsey Varady singing "I'm Sorry"). Lydia Lyons comes out like the ugly duckling in her overstated cat-eye glasses but shows on "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" that her velvety voice is a force to be reckoned with.
When Adrienne Muller, Cheryl B. Scales and Troupe perform the synchronized moves of the Supremes to "Stop in the Name of Love," they underscore the top-notch team behind this production. Dottie Lester-White's savvy choreography supplied the Supremes' familiar grand-lady gestures. Tommy G. Marquez, who splashed his detailed costume designs with humor, must have had a field day on the Supremes' dazzling form-tight evening gowns, sparkly gold bodices and bicep-length formal white gloves. As Petula Clark, Varady got to wear one of Marquez' most outlandish creations in honor of the British invasion—canary-yellow vinyl minijumper with white vinyl boots, white hip-hugging belt and big, dangly white mod earrings. The cast provides thick beautiful harmonies in the early girl-band numbers.
And the Stage Company dotted its "i"s during intermission by playing an archival AM radio show overhead, vintage late '60s. Not only do Act 2's screen images of Chinook helicopters in battle and Civil Rights protesters with "vote" etched on their foreheads contrast the clean girl promo shots of Act 1, but the ladies of Act 2 are hellraisers—Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin—big pipes, big stage personalities. As is often the case, the ineffable animus (both in the sense of driving spirit and of masculine energy) of these women proves elusive. But lively choreography, strong singing and clever context (Varady's Janis swilling from her mythic Southern Comfort bottle) approximate how these women helped fuel an explosive era.
Obscuring the band in a back corner to keep the stage wide open sapped a bit of presence from the show, but spunky guitarist Tom Siebenthal managed to peal out occasionally, and trumpeter Max Miller let rip those signature riffs in "Natural Woman." Here, the synergy between band and singers was obvious. Muller and Troupe crowned Act 2 by kicking butt in the duet woven from "Natural Woman" (Troupe) and "Do Right Man" (Muller). For the finale, "Dancing in the Streets," San Jose Stage's floor-level performance area made it easy for the audience to spill onto the dance floor—almost a love-in.
Beehive, a San Jose Stage Company production, plays Wednesday–Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday–Saturday at 8pm (plus June 23 at 3pm) and Sunday at 2pm through June 24 at the Stage, 490 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $25–$50. (408283.7142)
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