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The tunes were catchier, the hair was bigger, and everyone was younger—which describes both the decade celebrated in Beehive: The 60s Musical Sensation and the era when Larry Gallagher’s retro revue first appeared off-Broadway. If you fell for the recent mythologizing of the Reagan Years as all prosperity and perfection, consider this: Beehive was a smash hit in the mid-’80s, running for 600 shows at Top of the Gate in New York. Perhaps the half-empty Terrace Theater Friday night is indication that we’ve made progress as a nation since then. Sure, maybe the tour buses just took a wrong turn somewhere, but it’s more encouraging to conclude that even the least demanding consumers of pop culture now insist that their schmaltz be seasoned with a little invention, or at least some easy irony. The producers of this revival of a revival are probably hoping to cash in, albeit belatedly, on the success of John Waters’ campy Hairspray, but it shows serious chutzpah to charge $45 for the pleasure of watching the Broadway equivalent of a bar-mitzvah band limp its way through a medley of golden oldies. In the show, six women cycle through the ’60s, performing hit songs tenuously linked together to tell a generic coming-of-age story. We go from the nursery nonsense of Shirley Ellis’ “The Name Game” to the Lesley Gore liberation anthem “You Don’t Own Me” and end up at the neutered hokum of the Mamas and the Papas’ “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” The songs don’t naturally fit together, so the singers are forced to choke out some of the most painful segue lines in musical-theater history. (The intro to Gore’s “It’s My Party” is on the order of “Alena, but why are you crying? It’s your party!”) The performers are all very talented in that sassy kick-ball-change sort of way, especially Terry Norman and
Tamula Browning, but their forced enthusiasm only calls attention to the droopiness of the rest of the production. Apart from a few oversized LPs hanging from the rafters, the only major set decoration is the band itself, though its members are dressed like stagehands and seem as if they’d rather be hidden in the orchestra pit, or maybe in a bar somewhere. The singers’ glammy costumes and bulletproof wigs, on the other hand, are so over-the-top that the ladies look like drag queens—which can’t possibly be the intended effect. And as if just being in the audience weren’t humiliation enough, the singers regularly try to pull viewers out of their seats to twist it up in the aisles, with only minimal success. It’s an altogether awkward experience for everyone. But the beat goes on (and on). According to Playbill, an updated Beehive with an all-male cast is gearing up for a 2005 Broadway production directed, naturally, by ’80s television fixture Debbie Allen, of Fame fame. Gnarly.