BootLeg Betty

The Reviews Are In For ‘Beaches: The Musical’ As It Heads Towards Broadway

Around The Town Chicago
“Beaches, a New Musical”
July 6, 2015

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beaches-7807★★★★★ This is one of those rare situations where the rating system does not truly satisfy what I have seen. While I can safely say that the new musical, “Beaches”, based on the movie of the same name (without the “musical” part) written by Iris Rainer Dart is a story that deserves to be seen, the actual performances of the dynamic cast that is performing at Drury Lane Oakbrook, would get a ★★★★★ for their ability and energy in this production that is supposed to be preparing for the Broadway stage.

First, we must consider that this was a heartwarming story about two girls, from different worlds that became best of friends over a lengthy period of time and that it starred Bette Middler as Cee-Cee and Barbara Hershey as Roberta on the “silver screen”. The girls meet on the beach in Atlantic City, one lost, Bertie/Roberta(played by Brooklyn Shuck as a tyke) and the other an outgoing Jewish performer, Cee-Cee (played to perfection by the adorable Presley Ryan, who will knock your sox off). They become bosom buddies and we then go on their ride to adulthood, stopping for a short while in their teens as Samantha Pauly takes over Cee-Cee and Olivia Renteria, Bertie. As adults, it is the wonderful Shoshana Bean as the powerful Cee-Cee and Whitney Bashor as the loveable Bertie.beaches2

While we know they are not together, but communicate by letters (the set walls are covered with the letters that they have sent and collected over the years), we know that in their hearts, they consider themselves as “one! Directed by Eric Schaeffer on this simple set by Derek Mclane, we are treated to many beach scenes throughout the two acts of action and music. I found the first act to be a bit slow, and while there is some rousing musical numbers in this show, I found that most of them were sort of alike and none of them truly propelled the story-line.

Of course, the song from the movie, “The Wind Beneath My Wings” does appear in the second act and is handled in a beautiful way by Cee-Cee. Here is where I must say that Ms Bean is a combination of the talents of Bernadette Peters, Barbra Streisand and Ms Middler all rolled up and a special talent that one should make sure to watch in any role on any stage- she is dynamite!

The second act is more powerful and far more emotional than the first with less glitz and more story. There are flaws in the story and not wanting to spoil your outing to Oakbrook, I will only tell you, if you have not seen the movie, there is some sadness, mixed with other happiness at the end. One might say that this is a five tissue ending. One might also say that this is a two blanket production as the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook might serve as the “icebox” of the western suburbs. Baby, it was cold inside!.

beaches4The story is simple. Two young girls meet, become life-long friends and stay friends through thick and thin. We view their lives, their romances, their romantic failures, their good fortune and ultimately their love and devotion to each other. The ensemble is quite strong with many of the players taking on several roles. Little Miss Shuck also plays her own daughter, Nina (you have to see the show to understand this one) and others like Travis Taylor, Nancy Voigts (a great Jewish Stage- Mama), Jim Deselm, Kelly Anne Clark, Michael Accardo, Andrew Varela, Samantha Pauly, William Carlos Angulo, Heather Brorson, Rachel Klippel, Josh Kohane, Ron Turner, Holly Stauder, Raleigh Shuck and Christine Mild make these characters take on lives.

Brian J. Nash’s musical direction is sharp and his orchestra never misses a beat. The choreography by Lorin Latarro is unique and the wigs (Rick Jarvie) and costumes (Alejo Vietti) along with the lighting by Howell Binkley make the pieces fit. Knowing that this is a new show, with a new script and new music that has a stirring desire to make it to Broadway, I am sure there will be changes on the way. In fact, I would bet that by the time this run ends (August 16th), many alterations and changes will take place. This is all part of what the world of theater is all about, and one of the reasons that live theater is so exciting.


Chicago Sun Times
WORLD PREMIERE OF “BEACHES” (THE MUSICAL) AT DRURY LANE OAKBROOK
HEDY WEISS on July 3, 2015

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They meet cute, as kids, in Atlantic City. The year is 1952.

Little Cee Cee Bloom (Presley Ryan, a comic knockout in a bravura opening number that sets a very high bar for all that is to follow), is a Jewish girl from the Bronx with blazing red curls, a motor mouth, unstoppable energy and prodigious skills as a singer-dancer. She is, in short, the child Mama Rose of “Gypsy” fame could only have dreamed about, and she is there to perform in a talent show, complete with pushy mother.

Little Bertie White (Brooklyn Shuck), is a bit younger, and a very different sort of child – shy, proper, fearful, sheltered. She also is in a panic because she has somehow become separated from her Waspy single mother from Pittsburgh, with whom she is staying at a nearby hotel on the beach.

Cee Cee desperately craves an audience, and Bertie can only be dazzled by this girl bursting with such talent, moxie and freedom. The opposites attract, and it is the start of a friendship that will endure (with one major rupture) for more than three decades. Their friendship is, of course, is the driving force behind “Beaches,” the new musical based on the popular 1988 movie that starred Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey.

‘BEACHES’
Recommended
When: Through Aug. 16
Where: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane,
Oakbrook Terrace
Tickets: $45 – $60
Info: (630) 530-0111;
www.drurylane.com

Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

The show, which opened Thursday at the Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre in its “pre-Broadway” edition, features a book co-adapted by Iris Rainier Dart (based on her novel) and Thom Thomas, with music by David Austin and lyrics by Dart. Polished and accomplished, with ideally cast sets of three different actresses playing the child, teenage and adult incarnations of each of the two principal female characters, it captures the changes in American women’s lives from the 1950s through the mid 1980s with considerable subtlety. But there also is something of a paint-by-numbers quality to the whole thing that only relaxes in its very last scenes.

With echoes of such Broadway shows as “Gypsy,” “Annie,” “Mamma Mia!,” and “Wicked,” “Beaches” features fluid direction by Eric Schaeffer (the artistic director of the influential Signature Theatre in Arlington, Va., whose credits include “Million Dollar Quartet”). And its score is a zesty pastiche of the pop sounds of the era during which Cee Cee becomes a star, mixed with ballads that capture elements of the women’s friendship and their failed relationships with men.

Cee Cee (briefly played in her teens by Samantha Pauly, but for most of the show by Broadway veteran Shoshanna Bean) is wildly talented, but will never be “the traditional leading lady” (think Fanny Brice in a later era). Nevertheless, she is relentless and manages to become a Janis Joplin-meets-Bette Midler sort of star. Early on she falls in love with John (an excellent portrayal by Travis Taylor), a handsome actor-director who runs a struggling little summer theater. Bertie (played in her teens by Olivia Renteria, and in adulthood by Whitney Bashor), visits her friend there, and ends up making costumes before heading off to Paris to study fashion design. Before that summer is over, however, a little romantic/sexual mishap also transpires – an event that will be revisited years later.

Cee Cee marries John, who ultimately cannot deal with her success. And Bertie marries Michael (Jim DeSelm), a snobby lawyer with a jealous streak, with whom she has a daughter, Nina (also played by Shuck, a deft little actress), but little happiness.

Cee Cee’s struggles to forge a career are expertly played by the power-voiced Bean, who easily mixes the self deprecating with the heartfelt, and is the most obvious engine of the show. But it is Bertie’s tense acquiescence to a more traditional life, and the tragedy that befalls her, that sneaks up on you and makes a crucial difference. And Bashor does a beautiful job of capturing her character. (Nina’s response to her mom’s Auntie Mame-like best friend is priceless and true, and very well played by Shuck).

Choreographed by Lorin Latarro, with musical direction by Brian Nash, and a terrific pit band led by Alan Bukowiecki, “Beaches” (which also features Nancy Voigts, Kelly Anne Clark, Michael Accardo and Andrew Varela), unfolds on Derek McLane ‘s set, whose walls are papered with the letters shared by the two women over the years.

Although it is the men who create a rift in the friendship at one point, they are essentially props in this show. The big love affair here is between the women, whose very different personalities and very different lives supply the all-important “other half” of themselves.


By Kerry Reid
Chicago Tribune
July 3, 2015

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In the pantheon of tear-duct-depleting buddy films, 1988’s “Beaches,” starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, is up there with “Brian’s Song.” But instead of the gridiron, the battlefield for the two opposites-attract friends-for-life in “Beaches” is one familiar to many women — the fight to combine self-realization with lasting love.

Drury Lane Theatre’s new musical version of “Beaches,” in a pre-Broadway production directed by Eric Schaeffer and reworked from a 2014 staging at Washington, D.C.’s Signature Theatre, hews closer to Iris Rainer Dart’s 1985 novel than the 1988 film. Dart, a onetime writer for Sonny and Cher’s variety show, partnered with Thom Thomas on the musical’s book (and presumably contributed most of the one-liners) and wrote the lyrics for David Austin’s score – except for Jeff Silbar and Larry J. Henley’s “The Wind Beneath My Wings” from the film, which gets a second-act showing here.

So is “Beaches” ready for the high waves of Broadway? Yes and no. Currently, the second act feels stronger than the first, particularly in terms of musical variety. Too much of Austin’s amiable but cautious score stays in the mid-tempo zone through the dutiful hitting-the-narrative-high-points build-up in the first act. But it’s well worth checking out, especially for the winning performances of Shoshana Bean as brassy-but-vulnerable Cee Cee Bloom – the love child of Borscht Belt and disco – and Whitney Bashor as restrained-but-knowing Bertie White.

Their relationship builds quickly from a chance meeting on Atlantic City’s boardwalk in 1952, where budding Broadway baby Cee Cee (played as a child by megawatt charmer Presley Ryan) meets young Bertie (Brooklyn Shuck), through pen-pal laments about parents and classmates, to their separate career paths. Bertie’s stab at fashion design in Paris soon takes a back seat to matrimony to a callow attorney, while Cee Cee – like Midler, Cher and Barbra Streisand – struggles with being the talented woman whose outsize personality and unconventional looks initially stymie her showbiz aspirations, despite a brief marriage to a loving stage director. (Fittingly, Bean also played Elphaba in “Wicked.”)

But the temporary rift that ends the first act – and the too-pat reconciliation in the second – needs amping up to give Bashor’s Bertie her own arc, rather than loving second-banana status. Sure, it’s tough competing with Bean’s show-stopping brio and outsize red wigs – but that’s the reason “The Wind Beneath My Wings” exists.

The tear-jerking payload hits its target effectively in the second act, which is also where Bashor’s affectionate reactivity as Bertie dissolves in the face of mortality. We see a gracious woman who knows that her best friend needs emotional ballast of her own to anchor her through the inevitable losses of life. Like Cee Cee, the creators need to let those naked emotions – that raw human need for stability in a life of cruel uncertainty — shine through the wisecracks. If they can find that wind earlier in the story, “Beaches” could take wing as a sentimental but effective musical portrait of female friendships.


The Chicago Critic
Beaches – A new Musical
Posted by admin • July 5th, 2015

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Drury Lane’s Pre-Broadway production, Beaches, is a musical comedy abut two little girls who meet on a beach in 1952 and quickly become friends. It is essentially a female “buddy” friendship musical with hints of Annie, Gypsy, Funny Girl, Mamma Mia!, and Wicked. Yet Beaches has a familiar score that contains a varied style of pastiche tunes ranging from classic Broadway to era perfect R & B, pop-rock with power ballads, and soaring anthems. While not great, David Austin’s score is functional and worthy. The entire show seems a formulaic piece designed to commercially please. And that’s not a bad thing; it comes off as generic story, but with heart.

The story in act one goes from 1952-60 to 1961 to 1967 to 67-68 to 1969 to 1970 as we see CeCe Bloom (Shoshana Bean) and Bertie White (Whitney Bashor) meet and form a unique friendship held together mostly through letters and sporadic meetings. CeCe is a brash, aggressive Jewish woman with long red hair, and a loud, crude mouth. She is a driven stage performer who is destined never to be the leading lady (think Fanny Brice of the 60-70-80’s). CeCe was played appropriately by Bette Midler, who is being channeled here by Shoshana Bean.

Bertie White is a traditional woman influenced by her family. yet she is impressed and influenced by the flamboyant free-spirited CeCe. The two become close and eventually have long time together as each struggles to find their dream. These two anchor the show as each captures the essence of their characters wonderfully. Both marry guys who end up props in their lives. yet CeCe’s man, John Perry ( nice work from the rich-voiced Travis Taylor) was a mensch. Bertie’s man, Michael Barton (played effectively by Jim Deselm) was a louse.

The strongest parts of Beaches are the bonding scenes and, in act two, the hospice scenes between CeCe and Bertie. Act two also contains the show’s best songs. “What I Should Have Told Her, ” “Normal People” and, of course, the hit song from the film, “The Wind Beneath My Wings;” all are memorable. The emotional last few scenes were tenderly presented. They were earned by all that preceded it.

My problems with Beaches that should be fixed before going to Broadway contain some that are my particular personal and some more general. For, example, the opening scenes with the two little girls could be most endearing as Little CeCe (Presley Ryan) and Little Bertie (Brooklyn Shuck) but for their high-pitched singing voices and the children’s too fast speech patterns, which made much of the words unintelligible. (Many opening night audience members complained at intermission about that.) I’m not sure what can be done about that? I also have problems with understanding some of the lyrics with the ladies as they sing that Broadway-pop style (think the whining songs from Wicked), but most audience members don’t have my dislike of that style. However, act one tries to cover too much with seven long scenes and 12 songs. I’d advise cutting, trimming. or condensing act one for a faster-pace whirlwind so that we are not worn out by act two.

Once Beaches is tightened and trimmed, it will become a commercial light-weight musical that evolves into a friendship musical with loads of heart. As it now plays, it tries to do too much with some dance numbers and fluff that doesn’t come out of the story. I think Beaches’ book is strong enough that I’d strive for more of a dramatic play with music/songs rather than a pop commercial musical. Trust the story more and cut the fluff and Beaches could be a major hit like Mamma Mia! but with a more powerful story. As it now structured, it is worth a look.

Kudos to Kyle Desantis from Drury Lane Productions for being a champion of new works!

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