Review: Beehive: The 60s Musical

Cast of Beehive: The 60s Musical                                                                      Photo byAlexis Small

By Larry Laneer
April 17, 2019

The title Beehive: The 60s Musical doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence in some theatergoers. What is it? Hairspray as a jukebox musical? No, this musical revue has more substance than you might think. The 1960s began with the bulbous beehive hair-do and ended with girls ironing their tresses. And the decade’s music evolved to about the same extent.

Larry Gallagher, who died in 1988, selected the songs and wrote continuity dialog linking them  in this tribute to girl groups and female vocalists of the eponymous decade. The script abounds with historical and pop cultural references familiar to anyone alive at the time. Pollard Theatre Company is putting on the show under Timothy Stewart’s direction. The production takes a long time to get on its feet, but once it does, some of the performances stick with you for a while. I didn’t see Pollard’s 2008 staging of this show, so I have no basis for comparison.

The cast consists of Susan Riley, Mariah Warren, Stef Fortney, Jennifer Teel, De’Vin Lewis, and Megan Montgomery, all highly accomplished singers and actors familiar to regular theatergoers. After an introductory number, they start with “The Name Game” and work their way through to “Me and Bobby McGee” in about two hours, encountering the British musical invasion, war, and Woodstock along the way. Much of the singing comes off as in the style of the original artists, rather studied imitations, with notable exceptions, such as Warren’s Tina Turner. Teel’s wired Janis Joplin is a highlight of the show. Riley does a fine job as narrator and guiding light.  The always reliable Louise Goldberg leads a sharp four-piece, onstage band.

The early part of the decade was really the petering out of the 1950s. Songs covered various aspects of teen love from puppy to unrequited. Then, the British invasion happened, which included far more than The Beatles and Herman’s Hermits. Petula Clark (“Downtown”), Lulu (“To Sir with Love”), and Dusty Springfield (“Son of a Preacher Man“) had hit songs on the charts.

The best part of the show comes in the first act when Warren, Riley, and Lewis sing the much-recorded “Abraham, Martin and John” in haunting three-part harmony.

Michael James’s costumes also run the 1960s gamut. Some of them look luxurious by the end of the show. Lulu’s Mondrian-inspired dress and Janis Joplin’s hippie-chic are spot-on. Hannah Finnegan’s wigs play a big part in the show. Teel’s Joplin carries a liquor bottle on stage at one point, but it’s hard to tell if it’s Southern Comfort, the singer’s favorite libation (Stewart is also responsible for props).

James A. Hughes adorned his static, multilevel scenic design with pastel-colored hexagons appropriate for the set of any pop-music television show of the decade, such as Shindig, referenced in the show.

At the end, Riley gives a speech about how the 1960s were an important time for women’s empowerment. The Me Too movement gives the show some relevance today. Ironically, many of the men exposed by the movement are big shots in the music and entertainment industries.

Beehive: The 60s Musical created by Larry Gallagher
Pollard Theatre Company
8:00 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, through May 4
2:00 p.m. Sunday, April 21 and 28, 8:00 p.m. Thursday, April 25, and May 2
Pollard Theatre
120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie

Review: Bright Star

Bligh Voth (foreground) and the cast of Bright Star               Photo by KO Rinearson

By Larry Laneer
April 5, 2019

The bluegrass musical Bright Star teeters with unevenness, but it’s what they call a real crowd pleaser. You are excused from going along with the masses.

Created by comedian/actor/banjoist Steve Martin and singer/songwriter Edie Brickell, Bright Star taps its toes now at the Plaza under Michael Baron’s efficient direction. Ashley Wells did the choreography, including a square dance with a genuine caller.

The show must take place in the Asheville, North Carolina, area at the end of the Second World War (Lyric’s program provides no information). A soldier returns home in uniform, and the Southern drawls are pure cornpone.

Two story lines concern the soldier and an imperious editor of a local literary journal. The characters have problems, and the problems become exacerbated the more people try to fix them. As the musical unfolds, we see how the characters came to where they are and, finally, how they will go on with their lives. The show demands credulity. Would these people confess the sins and tell the secrets they do? I don’t buy it. These secrets would be taken to the grave.

Bligh Voth plays the journal editor. The role makes her range from mature buttoned-up professional to younger family black sheep. Voth runs the gamut and does so with a strong singing voice. As the soldier and aspiring writer, Ken Singleton does a fine job and reeks with small-town South. Michael Isaac is convincing as an unrequited suitor of the journal editor.

Jonathan Beck Reed bellows and fumes in the role of one of the most abhorrent villains to come down the pike in a long time. Zak Reynolds and Lexi Windsor play workers at the journal who seem to exist solely for comic relief (with mixed results).

Jeffrey Meek’s handsome costumes look period authentic, especially the women’s dresses. The scenic design by Shawn Irish consists mainly of horizontal planks and two rolling wooden monoliths that serve many functions. Other portable props help smooth the many scene changes.

The score includes soulful ballads, up-tempo tunes, and a little waltz, all rendered with clarity by the cast. An excellent, seven-piece string band accompanies the show, featuring Patrick Conlon’s fine fiddle playing.

Although the singing and acting are well-done, and the songs are pleasant enough, the show has some clunky dialog and retreaded gags. And it relies on that hoary theatrical device convenient coincidence. The way three couples come together at the end is downright Shakespearean. But the production had the audience at the reviewed performance on their feet at the end, clapping rhythmically with the music. The crowd seemed pleased.

Bright Star by Steve Martin (music, book, story) and Edie Brickell (music, lyrics, story)
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma

7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. Fridays,
2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. Sundays, through April 28
2:00 p.m. Saturday, April 13, American Sign Language interpreted
Plaza Theatre
1725 NW 16th St.
tickets start at $25