Fort Worth — What could be finer on a summer’s eve than some cool, fizzy pop?
And by pop, we mean pop songs from the Hit Parade of old, sung by the girl groups who blow through Jubilee Theatre’s tune-filled and dance-happy production of Larry Gallagher’s Beehive: The ‘60s Musical.
Jubilee head Bill Ray directs this quick-moving piece, and a sassy live quintet lead by Aimee Hurst Bozarth rocks in the rafters. Choreographer Jenna Meador (one of the six fine singer/dancers in the show) knows her stuff from the Pony to the Swim, and costume maven Barbara O’Donoghue runs the cast through a dazzle of period outfits and ’dos, from the swirling skirts of the early ‘60s to the sleek satins and hippie-chick couture of later years.
In other words, this is fun, fun, fun. Beehive is a jukebox in heels, a musical history of the all-female singing trios and quartets who crowded the Top Ten music charts in the era After Elvis went in the army, but Before the Beatles landed in New York. Today it sounds a bit flip to call them “girl groups”—but what pop promoter could resist that nickname with its cutesy gee-gee sound?
And in the beginning, a lot of them were girls, high schoolers (or recent grads) singing about class rings and dances, crushes and breakups: “My Boyfriend’s Back,” “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” and “One Fine Day.” In a rock and pop world full of men, this was a new voice chiming in, from groups that included the Shirelles, the Marvellettes, the Chiffons, the Ronettes, the Shangri-La’s, and Pattie LaBelle and her Blue Belles. Even Annette Funicello, Mousketeer and beach-movie princess, turns up for a wiggle or two.
But Gallagher, a music promoter turned playwright, broadens the picture to include not just the early ‘60s girl groups, but the long line of women stars who followed: Diana Ross and the Supremes; solo artists Lesley Gore, Connie Francis, Brenda Lee; British stars Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Lulu; powerhouses Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner and Janis Joplin.
Beehive opens with a string of funny, sweet, and well-harmonized hymns to boyfriends—past, present and in your dreams. But there’s more to come, and more to say, as the ladies of ‘60s pop grow up. The pivot moment in Beehive comes as Devin Berg, playing early 1960s singing star Lesley Gore (“It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To”) wipes the tears, raises her bleached-blonde head, and slowly sings the first line of another hit:
“You don’t own me….”
The audience roars, and the “you go, girl” vibe lasts for the rest of the show. This isn’t high school any more.
Berg, Meador and Mattie Lillian Davis team up (sleek in black mini-dresses) for a campy rendering of the Ronettes’ emotional “Remember (Walking in the Sand).” Kyndal Robertson, Nikka Morton and Ayanna Edwards do a great job on some lesser-known early tunes, with Robertson a standout as lead vocal on the Carole King-Gerry Goffin classic “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”
Nikka Morton is charming as a “typical teen” who supplies a bit of narration and dreams of being best friends with her idols. At her fantasy party, Brenda Lee (Davis) turns up to tell the world “I’m Sorry.” Lesley Gore (Berg) is happy that it’s “Judy’s Turn to Cry.” And Connie Francis (Meador) is the grownup in the room, telling them to shake it off and go “Where the Boys Are.”
After intermission, “The Beat Goes On.” History, as the song says, has turned a page, and we’re in the years of assassinations, civil rights marches, Vietnam. Bryan Wofford’s set design, bright and bouncy with Jennye James’ stylized giant flowers, takes on a shadows and a deeper palette as light designer Nikki Deshea Smith adapts to a more complex time.
Meador, Berg and Davis make the case for including British divas Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Lulu—half-forgotten these days, but each one a big voice back in the day. Robertson’s Tina Turner is a vibrating marvel on “Proud Mary”; race gets in the way of young love in Davis’ fine version of Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child”; Edwards and Morton pair up for a medley of Aretha Franklin songs that digs deep and leaves the audience cheering; and Meador has the flapping clothes, hair-flipping dance moves and belting voice to bring Janis Joplin to vivid life—though in fairness, no one in their right mind sings with the voice-shredding intensity of the genuine Pearl.
Beehive closes the Jubilee season—and the company under new artistic director William Earl (Bill) Ray is clearly in a musical mood: five of next season’s eight shows are songfests of one kind or another, from gospel to blues to Motown.