Beehive from Texas Rep: The Ultimate Jukebox Musical

The setup:

From bubble gum to Southern Comfort, the women of '60s pop had a radical musical transformation. Whether their music exactly mirrored those changing times as easily as Beehive's creator Larry Gallagher would like us to think is another matter, and, anyway, we really shouldn't be thinking such deep thoughts when buffeted by the nostalgic rush. The old memories and toxic flashbacks that this revue inspires aren't just dredged up, they bowl us over. This harmless little show, imaginatively produced at Texas Repertory Theatre and adroitly sung by a sprightly sextet, bewigged and costumed to Aqua Net perfection, is meant to be bopped to, not thought through.

The execution:

This musical is yet another in the never-ending genre called "jukebox," which has seen the catalogues of Frank Sinatra (Come Fly Away), the Beatles (The Fab Four), the Four Seasons (Jersey Boys), Johnny Cash/Elvis/Jerry Lee Lewis (Million Dollar Quartet), the '50s (Stages' summer cash cow The Marvelous Wonderettes and its variation The Winter Wonderettes) and even Gershwin (Broadway's current Nice Work If You Can Get It) get big-time treatment. The least amount of book sets the songs, while the audience does the show's heavy lifting, swaying to their collective remembered youth with contented smiles as if hit on the head by a bong. "Just sing the old favorites" is the mantra.

Beehive has no book, which is a refreshing change, so there are no characters to develop, no through-story to create, no conflict, no drama. There are some vocal impersonations -- some mighty fine ones, too -- but Beehive's more interested in getting us high on the music. This is a revue after all, not Miss Saigon.

Like America, the music grows up as the decade progresses. We start out with Lesley Gore puppy love, pass through Motown, get sidetracked by the British invasion, take a wild sweaty-thigh ride with Tina Turner, wail soulfully with Aretha and end with Janis Joplin swigging from her bottle -- an apt metaphorical journey for that decade that ran from Sandra Dee to STDs. The serious stuff (the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam, civil rights marches) gets mentioned under a few chord changes during "The Beat Goes On," until we're quickly off on musical riffs from Lulu and Dusty Springfield. Nothing lasts very long because the hits keep spinning like a diner's jammed jukebox. Since the songs are put over with such spirited panache from the talented six and the equally talented six-man band (positioned on stage behind the gals), no one really cares that there's no show here. This is the ultimate jukebox musical.

Directed with easy flair by Dan O'Brien, choreographed with great moves by Lauren Dolk -- everything from the Frug, the Mashed Potato, the Swim, the Pony, the Twist, et al., gets referenced -- placed within Trey Otis's psychedelic proscenium (which could be used for Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In set if that show ever made a comeback), lovingly costumed by Tiffani Fuller with white vinyl boots, minis, tie-dyed ensembles and enough wigs to open a Zsa Zsa Gabor franchise, this little musical sings its heart out.

Naturally, this type of show depends on the performers, and Tex Rep has wrangled itself a sextet hefty on the vocals: Lori Michelle Callaway, Rikki Conner, LaKiaya Evans, Lendsey Kersey, Kim Truncale and Christina Stroup. Each gets a specialty number, but particular goosebumps come from Callaway's physical Tina Turner ("Proud Mary"), Kersey's woeful Janis Ian ("Society's Child") and Truncale's boozy Joplin ("Bobby McGee"). The six work together in harmony, not just when they sing but when they interact. They're having a great time, and their joy is infectious.

My only cavil is that the individual miking is overbalanced on the treble, making the gals, who in authentic '60s technique use hand mikes, sound shrill when they strain to be heard over the loud band. Some added bass would help them mellow.

The verdict:

If you can remember Shindig!, pine for Annette (and don't ask Annette who?), made a fool of yourself doing the Hully Gully or attended Woodstock and can still remember the mud pit, then Beehive is just the thing. Like Proust's fragrant madeleines, the songs from the '60s and the women who sang them are etched in our brains and immediately elicit forgotten fragments from our youth. In this show, thankfully, the flashbacks are all positive. Only good vibes here.

The iconic girl groups and individual singers from the '60s get their own jukebox show that frugs through July 22 at Texas Repertory Theatre Co., 14243 Stuebner Airline Rd. Purchase tickets online at the company website or call 281-583-7573. $20-$40.

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D.L. Groover has contributed to countless reputable publications including the Houston Press since 2003. His theater criticism has earned him a national award from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN) as well as three statewide Lone Star Press Awards for the same. He's co-author of the irreverent appreciation, Skeletons from the Opera Closet (St. Martin's Press), now in its fourth printing.
Contact: D. L. Groover