By JACK FELIX
STATE COLLEGE - When opening Off-Broadway in the 1980s, it was called "Beehive - The 60's Musical."
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, “Beehive” (and the next attraction “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change”) are being reprised to kick off the 2012-13 Mainstage Season. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. June 19, 20 and 21, with an 8 p.m. curtain on June 22 and 23 and 2 p.m. matinees June 20 and 23 on South Allen Street in downtown State College.
Now it is simply called "Beehive," but audiences who see Penn State Centre Stage's current production will call it one razzle-dazzle revue.
To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, "Beehive" (and the next attraction "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change") are being reprised to kick off the 2012-13 Mainstage Season. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. June 19, 20 and 21, with an 8 p.m. curtain on June 22 and 23 and 2 p.m. matinees June 20 and 23 on South Allen Street.
Six vocalists, a mix of Actor's Equity professionals, Penn State alums and some current undergraduate music theater candidates sing, belt and deliver 40 ballads and rock 'n' roll song from the 1960s.
Act I focuses upon the hits from the early '60s girl groups (The Supremes, The Chiffons, The Shirlees) while Act II is replete with more earthy emotional tunes from Janis Joplin, Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin.
Amy Anders Corcoran directs this celebration of the female musicians who lit up the airwaves and gold record sales of those little 45s.
The costuming runs chronologically from big hairdos to long skirts to hippie dresses and beads..
On the downside, there is little dialogue between songs, but Crystal Sha'Nae acts as the show's narrator, tossing out bits of facts about the years in which the songs were released, often providing a needed context.
Still, "Beehive," with almost non-stop music, could benefit from some humor. The only attempt for laughs (during a preview performance upon which this review is based) was urging the audience to participate during "The Name Game" song.
Switching from group singing to solo work in Act I, there was deserved applause for Carole King's "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?," Leslie Gore's "You Don't Own Me," Petula Clark's "Downtown" and Lulu's "To Sir With Love," and my personal favorite, Dusty Springfield's "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me."
And even before Act II's opening song, there is hearty applause when the upstage backdrop curtains (closed during Act I) swing open to reveal silhouettes of the five-piece band, each perched in its own compartment surrounded by chaser lights. "Beehive" always is a visual delight with many wigs and costume changes wigs, colorful lighting patterns and bright platforms where the "Beehive" sextet prance and dance.
Act II turns a bit more thoughtful as the song list show that "... the country was a-changing." "Beehive" switches from huge hair to radical reform, as the music in the late 60s drifted away from boy and girl falling in and out of love to songs with political and social themes.
Lexi Rhoads, a 2009 PSU graduate, excels with her renditions of Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin tunes. Her powerful delivery emphasizes that women were now feeling good about feeling proud ("Proud Mary"), wanting some overdue respect ("Respect") and capped off with great vocalizing in "Natural Woman."
Not sung, although listed as the second-to-last song in the program, "Ball and Chain" was barely missed as "Beehive" runs two hours with an intermission. "Make Your Own Kind of Music" was a fitting finale.
With no storyline, plot or dialogue, musical revues can be a hard-sell for many theatergoers. But "Beehive" is a revue that taps into everyone's likings even as it's hard for the audience not to tap its feet to the contagious beat of 1960s music.
The exceptionally strong technical support with lighting, costuming and set design gives extra buzz. When "Beehive" was first staged at Penn State's Playhouse in 2001, it sold out.
It's back ... and maybe better than ever - at least it's still chock full of that '60s music. And it's simply so much fun to savor those sounds once again.
For more information, call 800-ARTS-TIX or visit www.theatre.psu.edu.