’60s pop queens rule the ‘Beehive’

Durango Arts Center will stage musical revue on summer weekends

The cast of “Beehive: The ’60s Musical” is Traci Lyn Thomas, Erika Beardsley, Danni Lyn Parker, Jessica Jane Hagemeister, Rachel Saul Pollack and Jeannie Wheeldon. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

The cast of “Beehive: The ’60s Musical” is Traci Lyn Thomas, Erika Beardsley, Danni Lyn Parker, Jessica Jane Hagemeister, Rachel Saul Pollack and Jeannie Wheeldon.

The ‘60s are back.

That fascinating decade, which we somehow survived, will bob up every summer weekend at the Durango Arts Center.

“Beehive: The ’60s Musical,” created by the late Larry Gallagher, will open tonight and run weekends through Sept. 1.

At last Saturday’s dress rehearsal, 90 minutes of music rolled out as energetically as the Animas River in June (most Junes, anyway). Tunes such as “One Fine Day,” “You Don’t Own Me” and “Downtown” spanned the decade like a bridge over troubled waters. For historical accuracy, the Beatles get a snapshot mention, but “Beehive” belongs to the girl groups and women soloists such as Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin and Lesley Gore.

The musical is mostly a revue with just enough story line to link everything together. Like an American Ariadne, narrator Jeannie Wheeldon weaves the thread of a fictional childhood through the ’60s labyrinth. She’s accompanied by Erika Beardsley, Jessica Jane Hagemeister, Dannie Lyn Parker, Rachel Saul Pollack and Tracy Lyn Thomas.

In Act I, the ensemble re-creates girl groups in varying combinations. The Chiffons, Shangri-Las, Shirelles and the very early Supremes come to life in splendid costumes and sharp singing. With a reality check from black-and-white film footage, the picture is complete.

Shortly before intermission, the musical also addresses the dark side of the ’60s: the civil-rights movement, race riots and the political assassinations that rocked the country. To the music of “The Beat Goes On,” Wheeldon and company front short clips of marches and the JFK motorcade. To address troubled times, creator Gallagher chose the perfect music.

Petula Clark’s “Downtown” shifts the mood to the recovering go-go spirit of urban music, mod outfits and white boots. A terrific trio concludes Act I with “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.”

Act II focuses more on soloists with Pollack and Thomas in particular belting out Franklin’s “Respect” and “A Natural Woman” as a trade-off duo. No one deliberately imitates an individual singer’s style, but the essence is in the air. The second act also acknowledges the social consciousness of the ’60s, most notably in Hagemeister’s marvelous rendition of Janis Ian’s “Society’s Child.”

A Woodstock medley wraps up Act II, featuring Beardsley singing Joplin tunes. All cast members return for a well-orchestrated finale wearing earlier costumes and tossing out fragments of earlier tunes. “Make Your Own Kind of Music” briefly reprises the whole show while musically sending the ’60s message to do-your-own-thing.

Music Director/pianist Ivy Walker and the stage band are unamplified, but the singers all have new head mics. If adjusted correctly, the sound is just right for the intimate Panelli Theater. Some voices are bigger and brighter than others, so it’s a challenge for Weylin Ryan and Lightning Communications.

Thanks to Theresa Carson’s direction, the show runs a tight 90 minutes. Choreographer Denise Hagemeister has created a movement vocabulary to fit every soloist and ensemble. Costumer Diane Welle surprises with a wig universe that must be seen to be believed, not to mention a stunning array of tie-dye, caftans, mini skirts and silver lamé gowns that even Diana Ross would covet.

At dress rehearsal the transitions were still a bit rough, which is something easy to smooth out by opening night. The cast and band were certainly ready for tonight’s official curtain. May everyone involved sustain high energy all summer.

Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at jreynolds@durangoherald.com.

Jessica Jane Hagemeister performs during dress rehearsal for “Beehive: The ‘60s Musical” at the Durango Arts Center. Enlarge photo

DAVID BERGELAND/Durango Herald

Jessica Jane Hagemeister performs during dress rehearsal for “Beehive: The ‘60s Musical” at the Durango Arts Center.