“Beehive: The 60s Musical Sensation” has returned to Sierra Repertory Theatre’s East Sonora stage, where it will play through Aug. 28. This crowd-pleasing musical revue created by Larry Gallagher is a journey through a tumultuous decade, highlighting the changes taking place in society, fashion and the memorable sounds which accompanied it all.
Russell Garrett, who staged the production when it played at SRT in 2003, returns as director and choreographer. He has brought together a talented cast of six amazing women who, with their powerful vocals, completely do justice to the high-energy score. All of the women, who use their own first names for their characters, are making their SRT debuts. They include Ariel Daly, Samantha Gershman, Gabrielle Jackson, Fay James, Natalie Anne MacDonald, and Roslyn Seale.
All the performances take place on Michael Kramer’s inventive set designed as a giant jukebox with tiers doubling as stairs. A screen serves as a backdrop with projected images illustrating some of the more indelible events of the era. Peter Leibold’s bold lighting features neon pastels and provides an upbeat tone.
Bethany Deal designed the wigs and colorful, authentic costumes which capture with flair the eclectic styles of a pivotal decade. The superb musical direction is by Mark Seiver and the spirited musical orchestration is by Sean Paxton.
There is a modicum of narration which establishes a contextual framework, but the focus here is on the music. And what an array of music it is! There are well over 30 classics spanning a variety of 60s hit tunes from some of the biggest female talents of the era.
The music is presented chronologically, and the play begins with the performers sporting beehive hairdos and dressed in early 60s attire. They express their teen anxieties about heartbreak and rejection with songs such as “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” “Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” and “I Sold My Heart To The Junkman.”
In a wonderful depiction of the Supremes, Seale, backed up by James and Jackson, captures both the style and vocal range of the group with excellent renditions of “Come See About Me,” “I Hear A Symphony,” and “Where Did Our Love Go?”
Another of the highlights of the first act is an impeccably staged comic scene where friends commiserate about a party gone wrong. Gershman belts out a petulant “Its My Party,” and a compelling version of “You Don’t Own Me.” In a powerful and throaty voice, MacDonald responds with astonishing versions of Brenda Lee’s hits “I’m Sorry,” and “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree.” Daly and James add to the fun with sparkling renditions of “Where The Boys Are,” and “I Dream About Frankie.”
James soulful “The Beat Goes On” provides a transition to changing times. The influence of female British singers, including Petula Clark, Lulu and Dusty Springfield, is acknowledged with spirited versions of “Downtown,” “To Sir With Love,” and “Wishin’ and Hopin’.”
As good as the first act is, the second act is even better. Here, Garrett picks the pace up considerably with kinetic choreography. The dancing is electric, and the cast gives it their all.
It would be impossible to say which of the musical numbers here is best, because they all capture the incredible energy and influence of the original legendary artists. Seale commands the stage as Tina Turner performing her memorable hits “Proud Mary,” and “River Deep, Mountain High.” Jackson is equally impressive as Aretha Franklin belting out the unforgettable “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” and “Natural Woman.”
Reflecting shifts in the latter part of the decade toward greater freedom and empowerment, Daly sings a potent version of “Society’s Child,” and delivers energetic renditions of three of Janis Joplin’s most memorable hits. In a clear and forceful voice, James sings the lovely “White Rabbit” made famous by Grace Slick. And Gershman and Jackson bring down the house with their dynamic performance of “Do Right Woman.”
After the company ended with “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” the capacity opening night audience gave them a well-deserved standing ovation. This production of “Beehive” is exhilarating, nostalgic fun. It has all the makings of a sure-fire hit, so don’t delay if you want to experience this irresistible musical. For tickets or more information, call (209) 532-3120 or visit sierrarep.org.