Grace Chermak, Emilee Hassanzadeh, Kiko Laureano, Leslie Vincent, and Erin Nicole Farsté in Beehive: The 60s Musical. Photo courtesy of the Old Log Theatre.
The Sixties is a very special time for me. I was 3 when the decade began and became a teenager just as the Sixties ended. Groups like The Midtown Men play tribute to the 1960s, primarily relying on the songs by men groups. The Old Log Theatre’s presentation of Beehive: The 60s Musical covers the same time period but focuses on the decade’s women’s artists. The talented singers in Beehive succeed in creating a cabaret with the fresh, entertaining and sometimes meaningful songs of the women of the 60’s.
I first heard the songs of the Sixties on a small AM transistor radio which had to be shared with my entire family. By the end of the decade, I had upgraded to my very own AM/FM clock radio as women performers started to increase in numbers. This show concentrates on the pop and rock artists of the era, leaving out the primarily folk artists of the day like Joan Baez and Mary Travers. The show progresses through the music primarily in chronological order. Male artists, such as the male bands of the British Invasion, dominated the airwaves in the Sixties. But there proved to be a steady increase in outstanding women artists as the decade progressed.
The trip down memory lane starts with such teenybopper tunes such as “The Name Game”, “Where the Boys Are”, and “My Boyfriend’s Back”. But as the songs continue, the increase sophistication of the music as well the underpinnings of the women’s movement become apparent. One example is Leslie Gore’s progression from her crying over a double crossing boyfriend in “It’s My Party” to the self-assertive “You Don’t Own Me”. It spotlights the female singing groups that emerged including The Chiffons and The Supremes. It then shifts to some of the truly outstanding artists of the period including Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Dusty Springfield, and Janis Joplin.
The cabaret does a nice job in the changing of music and costumes to guide the audience through this decade that went from teen pop to Woodstock. Women also changed during this time period as the music showed the transition from being all about boyfriends to more earthy and soul music where music was about life rather than just teenage angst. The reality is that women singers such as Franklin, Turner, and Joplin with their brands of strong female music would not have been able to dominate the Top 40 charts in earlier time periods.
The one deviation from the emphasis on women artists came when the song “Abraham, Martin and John” was performed. This song was made famous by the male artist Dion, but it is a very powerful song about the way that assassinations defined our social and political discourse in the Sixties.
The rise of women during the Sixties is also showed by the composers of these songs. Even though the majority are men, there is a steady repeat of women composers including Cynthia Weil, Ellie Greenwich, and the still-great Carole King who, herself, emerged as a singing superstar in the 1970s.
Erik Paulson’s scene design evokes the appropriate look of such Sixties shows like American Bandstand, Soul Train or Shindig. Paulson’s lighting design with the colorful lights and tones work well with Sara Wilcox’s costumes to evoke the changing time periods from the end of the Grease-period era to the days of Woodstock.
The distinctly older crowd loved the show the night I attended; many, like me, probably found it brought back great musical memories. But enjoyment of this show is not limited to the more seasoned. It captures an important time both in the progression of women and in the development of music that still influences the music of today.
Beehive: The 60s Musical is now playing in an open-ended run at the Old Log Theatre in Excelsior, MN.