Rep’s ‘Beehive’ Revives 60’s Teen Ballads

But who knew these girl pop groups were supposed to be proto-feminist?

By - Nov 15th, 2022 04:38 pm
Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Beehive: The 60s Musical in the Stackner Cabaret November 11, 2022 – January 15, 2023. Pictured: The cast of Beehive: The 60s Musical. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Beehive: The 60s Musical in the Stackner Cabaret November 11, 2022 – January 15, 2023. Pictured: The cast of Beehive: The 60s Musical. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

In the interest of romance, the Milwaukee Rep’s Stackner Cabaret patrons and cast are engaging in a bit of historical fabrication in Beehive: The 60s Musical. The show, which opened November 11, runs through January 15.

With six women changing wigs, girl-group twists and personalities as they go along, the first half revives the era’s sappy pop teen ballads of girls searching for boys, longing for boys and anger at boys — presented as if they really did carry (as the storyline invents) a burgeoning message of feminism, not a familiar variation of what teenage girls wanted to dance and moan to, as Tin Pan Alley and Motown were well aware.

But it more wisely devotes the last act to the more enduring stylings of later powerhouse female performers, when the patterns of rock grew a bit darker, and the personalities grew more distinctive. That act has less to do with the 60s and more to do with where popular music was headed in later years.

Not that there isn’t some fun in strong-voice singers (some stronger than others as the show wears on) seeking to provide individuality among the gyrations and hand-clapping syncopations of “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “It’s My Party,” “Then He Kissed Me” and on and on down the sock-hop memory lane. It’s like a living room album party magnified into the beginnings of a feminine mystique.

The cast and their memorable wigs have been chosen for a general ability at harmony and high-climax vocals, but it’s almost as if each cast member had also been chosen for specific moments of delivery as the show moves along — Tess Marshall for outstanding country music power, Jackey Boelkow as a Connie Francis look-and-sound-alike, and Jamie Mercado serving as informal emcee as well as singer, relying on her amused air of mischief inviting the audience in.

In the final act we understand finally why Sarah Lynn Marion has been hovering on the edges of the dance and music groupings – she was waiting her power turn for an extended Janis Joplin set. And Amaya White and Desireé Tolodziecki also emerge best as Tina Turner and an early Aretha Franklin, with moments that also remind us of the originals.

Laura Braza’s directing style is cutely simple– like cutting out paper dolls. Music director Tom Vendafreddo has kept the underlay pulsating and David P. Roman cleverly mixes trio, quartet and six-pack variations as choreographer, but even he can’t keep the staging from being repetitious.

There are some maudlin moments as the cast tries to pull the audience’s heartstrings with memories of JFK and Martin (what? — no Bobby or even Abraham!). But basically this reminds us that many in the audience are too young to be carrying firsthand memories. They learned these songs and their pre-rap rhythms in waves of pop music repetitions (often decades later).

Still, there are some in the house who lived through those times, and probably never thought that music carried as much meaning as Beehive invests in it. But if there is a climax to pull out of any song, these singers are well trained enough to do it.

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Dominique Paul Noth served for decades as film and drama critic, later senior editor for features at the Milwaukee Journal. You’ll find his blogs here and here.

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