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Since Raleigh Little Theatre returned to in-person performances in April, they have honored their commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion on stage and behind the scenes, bringing theatre to the community in more ways than one. Beehive: The '60s Musical, conceived by Larry Gallagher, packs a punch of girl power with a program full of popular 1960s hits from some of the decade's favorite female artists. The cast of six, directed by Lormarev Jones, guided the audience (safely socially distanced in the outdoor venue) through the decade of a civil rights awakening with a sampling over 30 songs at a clip just long enough to appreciate the music without dragging the pace.
The 80-minute performance took place without intermission on the stage of the Louise "Scottie" Stephenson Amphitheatre, transformed from top to bottom into a '60s diner by scenic designer Elizabeth Newton. (Although it looked like you could walk right on stage and order from the soda fountain, audience members should plan to bring their own food and drink. The amphitheater allows it, and RLT won't be selling concessions out of an abundance of caution amidst the pandemic.) Newton's design grounded the piece in the era while lighting designer Brett Stegall informed emotional shifts with programmable LEDs worked into the scenic design. "You Don't Own Me" blended design elements particularly effectively, with an all-red wash emboldening Jessica Landwehr's (Pattie) already powerhouse performance in Jenny Mitchell's crimson red costume design for the character's first scenes. Mitchell's design went on to convey the evolution of the decade as the music evolved through the evening. Typical A-line skirts broke away to reveal slimmer hemlines, which eventually gave way to pants, and ultimately culminating in the bold patterns and free flowing silhouettes perhaps most associated with late '60s flower power.
The vocalists introduced themselves aptly with "The Name Game" and established very early on that singing and dancing was highly encouraged. The following series of solos introduced director Jones' fun and unfussy choreography, true to the doo-wop style, and established the ensemble as a cohesive unit showcasing individuals throughout the evening. Natalie Turgeon was an early stand-out both vocally and as the narrator for early numbers while Kimberly Genna Bryant captured the style of the early '60s jukebox sound with "My Boyfriend's Back." The company number "Beehive" marked what seemed to be a shift in the musical journey through the decade. Music director Mary Kathryn Walston and her seven-piece band shone especially brightly here with exciting solos from the electric guitar and piano, highlighted by sound designer Todd Houseknecht's impressive balance for the outdoor venue. With the strength of the band, high energy choreography, and a full-throated performance from the ensemble, "Beehive Dance" felt like a finale for Act I, if there had been one.
The second half of the program featured the long awaited hits from iconic women, including Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, and Janis Joplin. The problem with covering music by women like these is that nobody can do them equal justice. That being said, the women of Beehive took up the mantle and delivered without fear. Angela Bridges (Jasmine) held nothing back when it came to singing through Jones' cardio workout choreography (call it cardio-ography) for Tina Turner hits "River Deep, Mountain High" and "Proud Mary." Despite being plagued by an ill-timed microphone snafu, which seems inevitable for outdoor theatre, Natasha Gore (Gina) surely would have made Aretha smile. Standing firmly on top of the bar counter of the set in a stunning, white evening gown and boa, Gore belted out a strong "Chain of Fools" and even stronger "Natural Woman." Rose Higgins had already teased what she was capable of with a nearly flawless delivery of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" earlier in the program, but she absolutely tore the house down with her Janis Joplin covers, leading with "Cry Baby" and sealing the deal with "Me and Bobby McGee."
From start to finish, the ladies of Beehive celebrated the critical influence of women not only on the evolution of music but also on equality during a decade so critical to civil rights. The lyrics to the final number put an emphatic button on the message: "Make your own kind of music, even if nobody else sings along." With the talent on stage at RLT this month, there is certainly no danger of that.
Beehive continues through Saturday, August 28. A digital program featuring all artist bios can be found at https://audienceaccess.co/RAL. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.