Through the magic and muscle of the beautiful voices of six gorgeous women, you are treated to a full-throttle '60s revue, worshiping at the altar of such legends as The Shirelles, The Supremes, Tina Turner, Brenda Lee, Annette Funicello and Janis Joplin.
The six women Rachel Abrams, Vilma Gil, Jan Guarino, Sandra Lucretia, Desirée Roots Centeio and Rose Watson give tours de force performances, both collectively as backup singers and during their individual moments as soloists. They take us on a ride that includes riotous, campy humor, solos that soar out of the building and even an esoteric history lesson.
Through distinct portrayals, such as Guarino's pouty innocence singing "It's My Party," or Lucretia's sexually blistering portrayal of Tina Turner's version of "Proud Mary," the girls shine with megawatt amperage through the labyrinth of 1960s Americana.
Leslie Owens-Harrington, who wears two hats as director and choreographer, seamlessly moves the girls from scene to scene, highlights their vocal strengths and lets them strut their stuff in period dances such as the Madison and the Twist. We've all danced the Mashed Potato, just not with the same grace and sense of fun as her ensemble cast.
My one issue with Owens-Harrington's direction is her decision to let Rachel Abrams slip dangerously close to caricature in her portrayal of Janis Joplin. Abrams shows great courage taking her Joplin to such an extreme level, but in doing so goes overboard a bit and clashes with the subtle portrayals of the other performers. I would gladly see Abrams in a Joplin one-man show, but Owens-Harrington would have been better served to pull her back a bit, bringing her more in line with the rest of the cast.
Costume designer Sarah Grady's creations lend a dreamlike quality to the proceedings, blending stylistic elements, such as sequined dresses and hippie minis, with period fabrics, such as taffeta and crinoline. Her work simulates a heightened sense of the era's fashion. We are not seeing the '60s as they were, but rather how we want to remember them.
It can be argued that the beehive hairdo was, metaphorically, the last fashionable vestige of an innocent America, a time now seen only in the faded memories of those old enough to remember poodle-skirt-wearing girls organizing "sock hops" in school gymnasiums. A time before our world exploded with the horrors of Vietnam and Kent State.
"Beehive" takes us back to those innocent times and lifts us up in a nostalgic symphony. With our lives inundated with the War on Terror and news of bombs possibly being on airplanes, a safe, fun-filled ride through the voices of the past may be just what we need. S
Barksdale Theatre's "Beehive-The 60's Musical" runs through Sept. 3 at the Cramer Center for the Arts at the Steward School. Tickets are $34-$38, call 344-8040 or purchase tickets online at www.barksdalerichond.org.