Catch the Queen Bees of ‘Beehive’ at Music Mountain Theatre in Lambertville

By John Dwyer

I was not familiar with “Beehive” prior to the Music Mountain Theatre’s mounting of the current production. I googled it, and found out that it was originally produced in 1985, and is less a musical than a musical revue. It was originally performed by six ladies, but the current production has five, and the job of narrator is handled by the ensemble. It’s a review of the musical scene throughout the 1960s, but focused solely on the girls.

In the first act, “Beehive” recalls the early girl groups like the Shirelles, and individual artists like Lesley Gore and Connie Francis. We are treated to the Motown sound of the Supremes. Oh, and remember “The Sonny and Cher Show”? We bask in the memories of the British Invasion, and listen to the songs of Petula Clark, Dusty Springfield and Lulu.

Act Two focuses on the women’s movement and social change. We hear from Nancy Sinatra that “These Boots Are Made for Walking.” And then from Janis Ian and “Society’s Child.” Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin round out a roster that shows the times are a-changin’ — the theme being, “I may love you ‘River Deep Mountain High,’ and you may take a ‘Piece of My Heart,’ but you will give me ‘R-E-S-P-E-C-T.’”

There is not really a plot here, but a timeline and the sole purpose, which is a good one: to take the audience back in time, and to marvel at the talent and the wonderful songs that these extraordinary women produced. Inherently, this show is about singing. And that is it, with the exception of a couple of moments, where music met the politics of the day and made a comment. Those political moments, in past reincarnations of this show, were seen as a distraction to the more lighthearted musical numbers. But this time, in part due to ours being a more politically active time than the mid-80s, one of the big highlights of the night were the songs “The Beat Goes On” and “Society’s Child,” sung with a sad wistfulness by the beautiful and talented Lauren Brader. Songs reminding us of protests, civil unrest and racial prejudice are as true now as then.

Prior to seeing the show, I was almost certain that Siiyara Nelson would sing the Tina Turner and Aretha portions. She is, and my high expectations were met by this wonderful performer. Last seen in “Seussical,” she rocked as those powerhouse divas. Jill Palena was all hair and leg as she traveled the stage as Nancy Sinatra, opening Act Two with “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” and Deborah Heagon accomplished the impossible with her Janis Joplin soul-wrenching wail needed for “A Piece of My Heart.” Cassie West as Diana Ross delighted the audience with a Supremes medley that included “Where Did Our Love Go?” and “Come See About Me.”

This show needs great singers. They really don’t have to act, but they need to be fearless in taking on all musical genres. All the ladies have good voices, but there are moments where the delivery seems more theatrical than pop. But that slight criticism pales against the concept of allowing all of us Boomers (along with admirers from younger generations) to go down memory lane and enjoy the sound of yesteryear.

The costumes and wigs are nothing short of amazing. The Motown girls are beaded. Carnaby Street waifs are mini-skirted. The fashion is eye-popping pop art, and kudos go to Jordan Brennan for it. Today’s sartorial styles pale in comparison. Congratulations go to Louis Palena for a fun show that sounds and looks exactly right — and the beat goes on.

Prior to seeing “Beehive,” I suggested it to friends who love the era. I knew Music Mountain would do justice to the piece, and what could be better than a reminder of the great songs, incredible artists and that era’s wonderful spirit of change? Those times aspired to love, to happiness, flower power, fairness and equality. The songs and singers of the 1960s and, in particular, those songs from the women of the decade, were powerful and moved us to dance, to march, and also changed hearts and minds.

You can catch “Beehive” at the Music Mountain Theatre through April 1. Tickets are available online.

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