Randy Kramer offered the best explanation as he welcomed the opening night audience to Beehive, now on stage at MusicalFare Theatre. He said the season was built during the pandemic and it’s all about forgetting about what is going on outside under all those facemasks and just having some fun. And for the most part, Beehive is all about putting fresh batteries in your favorite transistor radio and singing along with familiar Top 40 hits from yesterday.
Beehive is a send up to all the girl groups and girl singers of the ‘60s. It’s also a bit of a social history through fashion and hair styles (Kari and Susan Drozd must have had a blast working on the hair/wigs and fashions for this one) and a running commentary on selected events of the day.
Act 1 is all about the conventional world back then. Silly patter songs like “The Name Game,” tearful teen tunes like “It’s My Party,” and hopeful love songs like “Then He Kissed Me,” “Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” and “One Fine Day” had the audience singing along. The sextet of singers – Brittany Bassett-Baran, Stevie Jackson, Lily Jones, Sabrina Kahwaty, Kristen-Marie Lopez, and Timiyah Love were giving these songs their own treatment. They weren’t trying to imitate the songmakers of the day. It was indeed a jolly romp and the audience was eating it up.
Act II brought the second half of the decade. It started out with a lovely rendition of “Abraham, Martin, and John” by Jones, Lopez, and Love. It was a stunning, harmonic mesh of voices and a poignant lament on Mr. King’s and President Kennedy’s deaths plus a reflection on the lives lost in Viet Nam. Mores for women were changing, too, and so did the tenor and tone of the songs. The fashions were getting sassy as well, as mini-skirts replaced the puffy crinolined skirts of a more modest length. As a society, we were moving from “My Boyfriend’s Back” to “You Don’t Own Me.” The cast cruised through a few British invasion tunes right back to the homegrown female voices. “The “River Deep, Mountain High” and “Pride Mary” medley did Tina Turner proud and the Aretha medley blew the roof off the house. Jones, Lopez, and Love did it again. They even had a quick wardrobe change from slinky sequins to flowing chiffon. It was the highlight of the show. Then it was 1969 and time for Woodstock. Cottony fringed granny dresses and sandals replaced strappy sandals and sparkle. Kahwaty gave it her best as she tried to growl out “Somebody to Love.” But when Jackson came on stage in a send up of Janis Joplin, the audience laughed? Really? I was rather shocked. After an act and a half of well spun songs, for a couple numbers it felt like she was trying to parody (certainly not mock) Joplin and somehow some audience members found her performance amusing. The follow up trio turned “Me and My Bobby McGee” into a cheesy country tune without the signature bluesy soul.
Another thing that bothered me: The trio ensemble pieces were as segregated as my Buffalo public grammar school, pre-Judge Curtain. It would have made a bold and beautiful artistic statement to mix it all up.
The set had the bright colors of the Laugh In stage, with different levels perfect for doing the twist, the jerk, and the pony. Director/choreographer Carlos R.A. Jones kept his cast movin’ and groovin’ all over the stage, too.
The back up band was solid, led by keyboardist Phil Farugia with Larry Albert on guitar, Jim Linsner on drums., Jim Runfola blowing a mean sax, and Jimmy Runfola on bass.
If you’re into musical nostalgia and like to sing along, this is the show for you. So rat your hair, rub another coat of Jubilee wax on your Nancy Sinatra go-go boots, and grab a ticket a www.musicalfare.com. The show runs a fast-paced 90 minutes with one intermission to December 11.