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THEATER REVIEW

Revisiting the hits and hair of the '60s

`Beehive' is enjoyably light but sincere in its care for the music and nods to social struggle.

September 27, 2006|Daryl H. Miller | Times Staff Writer

Lively songs, a strong nostalgia factor and a bit of armchair social theory -- that's about all there is to "Beehive," a revue of pop hits by women recording artists of the 1960s. Yet it's as airy and showy as the hair souffles of its title, thanks to the Aqua Net lacquer of talent that holds it together.

A couple of the area's go-to people -- director Nick DeGruccio and choreographer Lee Martino -- are the stylists in charge of this production by the new Valley Musical Theatre at North Hollywood's El Portal.

The music cooks from the get-go as music director-keyboardist Jim Vukovich and five bandmates lay down the driving rhythms over which "Beehive's" six female vocalists will soar. The singers arrive under gravity-defying towers of hair, which draw the first of many laughs. Yet while comedy is an important part of this show, the music is its focus and, despite occasional parodic indulgences (Diana Ross having a diva moment or Janis Joplin chugging booze straight from the bottle), the songs are performed with honesty and affection.

Early on, the show turns the radio dial back to the early '60s and the close harmonies of the girl groups then popular. Among that number, of course, are Diana Ross and the Supremes. "American Idol" contestant LaToya London, the cast's most famous member, re-creates the Ross sound: smooth bordering on breathy in all the right places.

The vocal offerings are distributed fairly evenly among the cast, giving each performer at least one standout moment. For Kathleen Hennessey, it comes in a song set saluting drama queens Lesley Gore, Brenda Lee and Connie Francis, when she lets rip on Gore's "You Don't Own Me." As it progresses through the '60s, "Beehive" -- created by Larry Gallagher and notable for its off-Broadway success in 1986-87 -- tries to place the music in a larger context. Screens built into the colorful, luminescent backdrop deliver a slide show that charts the era from its hopeful beginnings through its spirit-crushing assassinations and wartime losses.

Struggles for equality also are traced, with the show's second half given over to several of the most powerful women's voices to emerge during that era.

Sylvia MacCalla raises the shout as Aretha Franklin demands a little "Respect," Tricia Kelly rips her soul apart in Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," and Lesli Margherita thunders through Grace Slick's "White Rabbit." The most dramatic declaration of independence is made, however, by Stacy Francis' Tina Turner -- all legs and hair and incandescence -- as she roars through "River Deep Mountain High" and "Proud Mary." "Beehive" asks us to remember these recording artists for the voices they lent to social progress, and so, for all its froth, it also deserves -- let's spell it out with Aretha, now -- R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

daryl.miller@latimes.com

*

`Beehive'

Where: El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; also 8 p.m. Tuesday

Ends: Oct. 8

Price: $32.50 to $45

Contact: (866) 811-4111 or www.valleymusicaltheatre.com

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

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