If you remember the '60s, the saying goes, you weren't there. Try telling that to the Sunday matinee audience for Beehive: The '60s Musical at the Old Log Theatre. A few comments you might have caught at intermission:
Old Log Theater
"It's like I was back there."
"Tears were running down my face."
"I remember it all."
While Beehive clearly connects with its baby-boomer target audience — the people who can sing along with the Green Giant jingle that plays at the show's opening — it has less to offer audience members who weren't around for that eventful decade.
"Musical" is barely even an accurate designation, as that generally denotes both a score and a book. Beehive has little dialogue outside of the dozens of vintage songs performed by its seven-woman cast. Impresario Larry Gallagher gets a "created by" credit for the musical, which debuted Off-Broadway in 1985.
Gallagher, who died of encephalitis just three years later at the age of 41, might have been gratified to know that his featherweight creation would prove surprisingly durable, still going strong as the world marks a half-century since the tumult of 1968.
Part of the show's enduring appeal lies in the way it triggers nostalgia vicariously. Although the cast members are all young women who go by their real names (they introduce themselves, natch, by way of Shirley Ellis' 1964 novelty hit "The Name Game"), they chat about the '60s as though they were there.
They remember those British cuties in floppy haircuts, and those tall white boots all the women were wearing. They were in school when the news of JFK's assassination came over the radio, and then they joined the crowd of half a million at Yasgur's farm. It's apt that the show includes "Woodstock," a wistful song Joni Mitchell wrote about a festival she didn't actually attend.
Director R. Kent Knutson's slick production easily vaults over the modest bar this material requires. Erik Paulson's set, with colorful lights glowing behind a mid-century geometric motif, forgoes the campy flourishes that often accompany this show: other productions have featured giant jukeboxes and towering cans of Aqua Net.
The performers whip through the 90-minute production with amiable professionalism, transitioning from the girl-group stylings of the Shirelles to the iconic soul of Aretha Franklin to the gritty blues of Janis Joplin. The show portrays the rising importance of personal expression, with Gracie Kay Anderson's Joplin serving as apotheosis and climax.
For most of the rest of the show, though, idiosyncratic flourishes are whittled away in service of a consistently cheerful sheen. The decade's legendary voices become ghosts, with neither the singers nor musical director Natalie McComas's instrumental quartet able to capture the force and flavor of the original recordings of songs like "Be My Baby" and "Son of a Preacher Man." The same goes for Sara Wilcox's costumes and Hair-O-Smith's ever-changing wigs: They gently evoke '60s style without calling particular attention to themselves.
In a program note, Knutson writes that the women of the '60s were "crying out then as they do today…#MeToo." However, that says as much about what Beehive isn't as about what it is. The show is superficial and antiseptic, with nary a "nasty woman" to be seen.
That said, simply deleting the men from the '60s hit parade is worth something. Beehive revisits the decade without the need for a Mick Jagger impersonator growling "Under My Thumb," while the Ike and Tina Turner Revue discreetly omits Ike. No one misses him.
IF YOU GO:
Beehive: The '60s Musical
Old Log Theatre
Through October 13
Old Log Theater