Beehive’s hum and sting

Broadway Rose takes a musical tumble into the the sounds and styles (and hairdos) of the 1960s

Breathe a sigh of relief: the Broadway Rose New Stage has high enough ceilings to accommodate the fabulous hairstyles that parade across the stage in the company’s latest production, Beehive.

Beehive, a musical revue of the top ten hits and girl groups of the 1960s and a clever celebration of women’s voices, begins with six young teenagers who find refuge in the family garage to practice their dance moves and vocals along with the radio hits that consume their world. These are more than just songs: they’re maps that chart the bumpy waters of adolescent emotional lives. It’s a rite of passage for most kids (and a vexation to their parents) to hole themselves up in a room and fall head over heels for music.

The hairdos have it in Broadway Rose’s “Beehive.” Photo: Liz Wade

Unlike many of us who copied dance moves in the secrecy of our bedrooms, these girls from the golden age of American culture, music, and design have the style handbook down. Their coiffures are architectural masterpieces, replicas of the hairsprayed skyscrapers of the girl-group greats who rocked the original locks. The beehive hairdo took an enormous amount of weekly effort to perfect, from the right kind of shampoo to the best size soup can to achieve maximum flip to the intense under-teasing and overlaying back comb. It’s the American version of the geisha’s shimada. And at Broadway Rose, Andrea Enright’s Leslie Gore has the hair down to a T, with golden highlights framing her face. The cast moves through several costume changes as the conservative Jackie Kennedy lines become relaxed and individual as the decade advances. The whole ensemble of hair, costume, and stage is eye candy, like leafing through a 3D fashion history.

The cast pops onto the stage ready to rock 10 years’ worth of songs. There’s a loose storyline to follow which gives some context here and there of the big events that shifted ’60s culture and attitudes.

The Name Game, made popular by soul singer Shirley Ellis, introduces the range of vocal talents of the night, from deep gospel roots to crystalline sopranos. The fun rhyming and warming-up exercise grabs the audience by surprise and puts them in a full nostalgia groove. As the girls in the show mature, they move from being part of an ensemble into single voices, icons of women’s lib.

It may be said that we’ll never stop mining the ’60s, trying to understand the shadows and light that grew out of that meteoric decade. Antonia Darlene’s lead in Patti LaBelle and the Blue Bells’ song Academy Award speaks not just about first-time heartbreak: Darlene’s soaring vocals are a dramatic hint that while the form is perfect, the volcanic emotions underneath are going to crack through some fixtures.

The Supremes’ medley of Holland Dozier Holland genius – for example, I Hear a Symphony – is an Occam’s Razor of the group’s dynamic. What takes Dreamgirls a few hours is portrayed in Beehive in under 10 minutes. Kayla Dixon’s Diana Ross as a diva-in-the-making with her unique vocals, overextended reach to the audience, and exploitation of backup singers Flo and Mary is one part poison, the other part just plain funny. There’s nothing like a narcissist begging for attention in a wispy ostrich -eathered gown.

At the center of Beehive is a teenage fantasy of hanging out with music heroes and commiserating over the ups and downs of having a crush. Andrea Enright’s Lesley Gore is down in the dumps since Johnny left with Judy at her party. Brenda Lee, played by Malia Tippets, comes to her rescue with a few verses from her ode to manners, I’m Sorry. As the game of emotional pingpong ramps up, more tunes are piled on top of one another and finally the entire cast breaks out in a dance party for the original song Beehive. The Jerk, the Mashed Potato, the Swim, the Twist all take their turns on stage: for a moment its like being part of the live audience in 1964’s TAMI Show.

The second half begins with the drums of war in a slowed-down version of Sonny and Cher’s The Beat Goes On. Instead of a campy existential catalog of events, Beehive’s harmonies are a Hail Mary, a thoughtful eulogy to the passing of innocence. For once, The Beat Goes On is no longer an annoying cash-in, but lifted by a beautiful arrangement and the skilled voices of the cast.

Technically, the hardest part of the show is the Tina Turner medley. Turner has a distinct and precise vocal control that maneuvers between styles and ranges with liquid agility. Kayla Dixon and Antonia Darlene switch off the role, with Alyssa Birrer and Andrea Enright as her supporting sisters, the Ikettes. The medley starts off with the doowop-meets-grit sound that put Turner on the map, is bridged by the symphonic rock and roll monument River Deep-Mountain High, and is sealed by the hard-rocking dirty South celebration Proud Mary. Dixon and Darlene capture the sexy raw-edged talent that Turner honed in shifting dimensions. With Birrer and Enright, the four capture the frenzy of perfection that Turner’s shows are famous for. At the end of the performance, the cast and audience have been taken beyond crayons and perfume to an unbridled expression of woman.

Change, of course, is afoot. In the last part of the show Malia Tippets has lost the biggest of the cast’s beehives to a short and tidy curly headdress. She’s traded in her matching sets and heels for some bell bottom jeans and a flowing blouse. Standing alone in the spotlight, she gives a thoughtful and stirring performance of young Janis Ian’s Society’s Child, jumping from Turner’s libido to Ian’s intellect, the complex facets of women’s voices making a complete circle. Tippets unearths the empathetic snapshots of injustice and race that compose Society’s Child. We become aware of the tapestry that make up women’s experiences and voices, but most of all the enormous amount of musical legacy they contribute to.

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Broadway Rose’s Beehive continues through May 14. Ticket and schedule information here.

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