Spring is in the air and so is the hairspray in Actor Cabaret’s production of Larry Gallagher’s off-Broadway revue Beehive. ACE veteran Ashley Apelzin makes her directorial debut with this musical dedicated to the women who shimmied and rocked their way from mini skirts to paisley shirts.
Heavy in nostalgia, the show begs you to sing along through an almost manic showcase of ’60s tunes.
With little dialogue, Beehive runs entirely on vocal prowess, fur coats and glittering gowns. Delaine Burns, Chelyce Chambers, Katie Hammond, Hillary Humphreys, Chelsea King, Lexy Neale, India Potter and Rene Ragan make up the entire cast. While some of the vocal performances were more notable than others, each of these women should be commended for her sprint through the karaoke-esque gauntlet.
From The Shirelles and Connie Francis to Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin, Beehive’s two acts are comparable, respectively, to the Beatles before Bob Dylan and the Beatles after LSD — but let’s not bring the boys into this too much.
The first act encompasses the syrupy sweetness of the early ’60s pastel-colored palate. Lime greens, soft yellows, pale pinks and powdered blues make for a garden of “Mashed Potato” and “Watusi.”
A few off-putting wigs and a giant can of “Ozone Net” act as a gentle reminder to not take the fluff so seriously.
Upbeat skits and pillowy harmonies make up the bubblier half of Beehive. Likewise, Hammond’s sweetly sung “Where the Boys Are” and Neale’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” are especially memorable performances from early on.
In the second act, the women let down their hair with a vengeance, though, admittedly, for a moment I wanted to burn down the place when I thought “Proud Mary” was going to be sung in bathrobes. Thankfully, costumer Joe Zingo did not disappoint, as the slumber party went from boring night into fiery and frilly red Ice Capades.
Both Neale and King run circles around the small bedroom set, flexing their impressive vocal skills, invoking the high-octane spirit of Tina Turner herself.
Things keep climbing from there: White fur coats, the British invasion and Woodstock demand the audience’s participation. By the time Chambers gets to the Aretha medley, the shy sing-a-long gives way to hoots and hollers for the sultry songstress in red chiffon.
The powerhouse of the show is undeniably Ragan as Janis Joplin. With a paisley-scarfed mic borrowed from Steven Tyler and John Lennon’s round aqua glasses, Ragan is impressive and magnetic in “Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)” and “Me and Bobby McGee.” Long gone are the days of the Name Game.
The women of Beehive run a virtual marathon on stage. The show is a revolving door of music and hair, all fueled by the energy of the performers. The scant dialogue, which serves as a guide through the golden era of peace, love and rock ’n’ roll, comes off a little cheesy and over the top.
A bit embittered myself about how much progress was really made then and now, the shiny nostalgia seems clouded at times. In the somber “Abraham, Martin and John,” the show takes a minute to touch on the Vietnam War and racial inequality, but the sentiment falls flat, and we are again whisked away to a glittery realm.
Beehive is a musical revue, first and foremost. Any kind of claim for female empowerment and equality is subsequently realized in the performances of the women themselves, rather than the moments of didactic dialogue.
That said, any fan of Elton John’s closet will want to check out this talented and energetic production.
Beehive runs through April 20 at Actors Cabaret of Eugene; tickets start at $16, available at actorscabaret.org.