Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Created by Larry Gallagher, this musical revue was a big hit Off-Broadway in the mid-1980s and it's easy to see why. With over forty songs, including many well-known hits from the decade and just enough of a frame to hang the songs on in some semblance of structure, it is a toe-tapping celebration of the importance of the music of the female singers of the '60s. Gallagher's narrative focuses on the changing styles of music along with key moments of the decade, both historical and musical, and their relation to the rise of relevant social issues of that period.
At first glance, Beehive might seem like a lightweight bit of fluff, with a lot of the first act spent on songs about silly school girl crushes ("Where the Boys Are"), silly jargon tunes ("The Name Game"), and the rise of the British Invasion on the music scene. But the inclusion of "The Beat Goes On" shows the shifting societal transition from the assassination of John F. Kennedy to the deadly impact of the Vietnam War and how the music of the decade both commented on these historical moments and gave a voice to the youth of the generation. The second act is firmly focused on a few powerhouse female vocalists, including Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin, who gave rise to songs about female strength and empowerment, numbers that comment on social issues or tortured passion.
Director and choreographer Michael Jenkinson has done great work with this production. His staging and dances serve both the style of song and the singer, with plenty of high energetic dance steps that add to the enjoyment of these familiar tunes. The Phoenix Theatre production is colorful and vibrant with six excellent singers and a smoking band led by the always excellent music director Alan Ruch.
Teshomech Olenja serves as the narrator of the piece, and her personable stage presence and stunning voice deliver some powerful vocals. The other women in the cast are equally as good. In addition to numerous other exceptionally sung numbers, Brittney Mack, Chanel Bragg and Katie Hart deliver superb portrayals of Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin, respectively, with their performances smartly more of an homage to these famous women instead of a straightforward impersonation. Alyssa Chiarello's earthy voice provides some stunning sounds for both "It's My Party" and "A Natural Woman," and Ashley Stults sings a wide range of material with a natural ease.
Phoenix Theatre's top notch creative elementsMark Halpin's elegant yet simple set design, Michael J. Eddy's stunning lighting, and the crystal-clear sound design of Dave Tembydon't disappoint. Costume designer Cari Sue Smith provides an exceptional number of period perfect outfits and the couple of dozen wigs used in the show are both humorous in their height and an appropriate homage to the changing hairstyles of the period.
Beehive smartly shows how the music of the 1960s was a reflection of the women of that period and how the songs and the female singers proved inspirational regarding how women viewed themselves and the world around them. The show ends, fittingly, with the Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil song "Make Your Own Kind of Music," which was made famous by Cass Elliot in 1969. The lyrics for that song state, "You've gotta make your own music, sing your own special song. Make your own kind of music even if nobody else sings along." I can't think of a better way to show how the simplicity of lyrics so firmly tells women, and men, to be who you are, even if nobody else understands you. I have to believe this simple directive is something that just about all of the female singers highlighted in this show truly believed in.
With a gifted cast, an exceptional band, and pristine direction and creative elements, Beehive at Phoenix theatre is a true celebration of the powerful songs and women of the 1960s.
Phoenix Theatre's production of Beehive runs through June 4th, 2017, with performances at the Phoenix Theatre at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling (602) 254-2151.
Director/Choreographer: Michael Jenkinson
*Members of Actors' Equity Association