The Rep's production of Beehive isn't theater. It's a cruise-ship sing-along.

Mar 24, 2011 at 4:00 am

Normally we review theater on the Stage page. So I concede that perhaps I'm the wrong person to be commenting on Beehive The '60s Musical, this season's final offering from the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis — for the simple reason that Beehive is not theater. It's more akin to cruise-ship entertainment, a blast of empty energy that is only palatable after you've been exposed to too much sun during the day and eaten too much food at night.

The revue strives to immerse us in the happy nostalgia of female voices from the 1960s. Everybody from Brenda Lee to the Supremes. (Diana Ross is always an easy target for pot shots.) Along our tuneful way, we are supposed to hear music as a reflection of changing times. So our trek begins with simplistic melodies from the likes of Connie Francis ("Where the Boys Are"), includes the paroxysms of Tina Turner ("A Fool in Love") and builds to the tortured agonies of Janis Joplin ("Piece of My Heart"). But Beehive is at best a random reflection of the '60s (probably determined by song-rights availability). It omits such iconic fare as "Johnny Angel" (Shelley Fabares), "He's a Rebel" (the Crystals), "He's So Fine" (the Chiffons), "I Will Follow Him" (Little Peggy March) and "My Guy" (Mary Wells). And where is that decade's most memorable novelty, the Singing Nun? While watching television last week, I happened upon a 30-minute informercial for a five-CD set from Time-Life ($149.50 plus S&H) that covers this very same ground. The infomercial was only a third as long as Beehive — and was much more authentic.

Here, authenticity is supplanted by clap-along. Every time Beehive finds itself running on empty, it tries to get the viewers to start clapping to the music, as if the audience can provide a buzz that the show itself lacks. But audience participation cannot compensate for musical arrangements so homogeneous they sound as if they've been run through a blender. The six female singers often are dressed in that androgynous cruise-ship manner that submerges individual personality. It would be rude to criticize performers trapped in mire like this. But I would discreetly suggest that at least four of the six seemed to be too old for the material.

Beehive has been "directed and choreographed" by Pamela Hunt; it takes real chutzpah to claim a choreography credit for this show. Mostly what we get here is a lot of swinging arms along with some ankles being tapped together. If this is choreography, then we all have hidden talents. Hunt also provides a program note that describes the '60s as "a more innocent time." There's an insight for you — though one might justifiably ask: more innocent than what? That decade saw the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. Even as the Vietnam War raged in Southeast Asia, here at home the civil-rights movement resulted in huge portions of cities like Detroit and Newark being burned to the ground. Where was the innocence?

The most offensive thing about Beehive is its gratuitous reference to President Kennedy's assassination, but the most depressing about this revue is that the entire evening is so stale — which is perhaps no surprise, when you read in the playbill that it was conceived (by Larry Gallagher) in 1986. At age 25, this moldy contrivance now defines irrelevancy. If you want to take that a step further, any theater that would stage it is also flirting with irrelevancy.

Although Beehive continues its gyrations until April 10, the Rep will have one final opportunity this season to redeem itself with some real theater. On Friday morning, April 8, the fifteenth annual WiseWrite Festival will be held on the Rep's mainstage. WiseWrite is an assemblage of short playlets written by fifth graders but staged and performed by professionals. You can rest assured that these imaginative ten-year-olds will imbue the stage with more humor, intelligence and creativity than anything that is being put forth in Beehive.