Chicago Theatre Review
Beaches, A New Musical – Drury Lane Oakbrook
A friendship is a fragile, living substance. Once the seed’s been planted, it requires constant sunlight, fresh air and, now and then, enough teary-eyed water to enable it to survive anything in its way. In Drury Lane’s first foray into the preBroadway business, the kind of thing audiences have come to expect from Broadway in Chicago, we’re treated to a new musical based upon a late 1980’s movie that was, in turn, adapted from a bestselling book. Author Ira Rainer Dart has transferred her own novel into a theatrical musical, with the assistance of co-adaptor Thom Thomas and with music by David Austin (Ms. Dart composed the lyrics). All three genres tell the story of a deep, lasting relationship between two women, two forever friends.
As the musical begins, Little Bertie (a terrifically played Brooklyn Shuck) is discovered wandering by herself along a beach, desperately searching for her mother. Suddenly, another child erupts from beneath the boardwalk and immediately comes to the aid of this little lost girl. Her name is Cee Cee Bloom (as a combination of Baby June, Tina Denmark and Annie, Presley Ryan is simply sensational) and she has enough moxie and confidence for both children. Like yin and yang, she and Bertie are exact opposites, and yet each completes the other. Their bond is instantaneous. Little Cee Cee sings, in the show’s electrifying opening number, that not only is she a performer, but this is “What a Star Looks Like.” Little Bertie sees in this self-reliant little redhead the girl she wishes she could be. The kids’ mothers meet (played by two of Chicago’s most talented musical actresses, Nancy Voigts as Leona Bloom and Kelly Anne Clark as Rose White), disapprove of each other and go off their separate ways. But the friendship that developed between two little girls on a beach during those few fateful moments will last a lifetime.
We see the kids grow up into lovely young women, played by the dynamic Samantha Pauly, as Teen Cee Cee, and the accomplished Olivia Renteria, as Teen Bertie. Communicating over the years through volumes of cards and letters (which bedeck and add texture to Derek McLane’s nicely fluid scenic design), the girls eventually meet again in person at a struggling summer theatre, run by the ruggedly handsome John Perry (played by Travis Taylor, a Chicago musical star who’s probably mere moments away from his own Broadway career). Cee Cee, now a grown woman, is an aspiring actress, stuck playing bit parts in musicals; Bertie arrives, with a talent for design and sewing, and is instantly hired as the company costumer. Although both women are enchanted by John’s charm and good looks, Cee Cee eventually marries him. What she doesn’t know is that Bertie and John had a clandestine tryst one-night at his cabin, but this secret will return later to haunt and almost destroy the relationship between these two friends.
Bouncing with slick choreography (staged by Lorin Latarro), the musical is filled with catchy pop tunes and ballads, such as “The View From Up Here,” “Extraordinary,” “All I Need,” “Out There” and the heartbreaking, double Grammy Award-winning, “The Wind Beneath My Wings” (written in 1982 by Jeff Silbar and Larry J. Henley). This show journeys through roughly thirty years of ups and downs. It rides the waves of success and failure, happy moments and sad times, career changes and romantic relationships. For anyone who’s ever enjoyed the film, which starred the mega-talented Better Midler, as Cee Cee, and the beautifully understated Barbara Hershey, as Bertie, the profoundly devastating moment that arrives halfway through the second act won’t come as a shock. It still inspires tears, or at least a lump in the throat, and the incident is made all the more poignant and beautiful by the performances of this production’s two leading ladies.
Known for her critically acclaimed roles on Broadway in “Hairspray” and “Wicked,” Shoshana Bean is the real star of this musical, as Cee Cee. With her infectious smile, her frizzy red hair and Broadway belt, Ms. Bean is, to quote a lyric, “the one with all the glory.” Her voice effortlessly flies to the rafters, while moving through this story with assuredness and pizzazz. Whitney Bashor (recently seen on Broadway in “The Bridges of Madison County”), plays the quieter, less flashy Bertie. The actress is very good in a role that doesn’t allow her to be as glitzy and over-the-top. Beautiful and possessesing a strong, crystal clear soprano, Ms. Bashor sparkles as a young woman trying to be a true friend. She’s especially excellent, as is the show, during the final scenes. Called upon to bring grace and dignity to the moment, without being maudlin, Ms. Bashor’s star shines just as brightly as Ms. Bean’s.
Eric Schaeffer’s direction is competent and keeps this story moving right along. Brian J. Nash and Alan Bukowiecki conduct the Drury Lane orchestra with assurance, allowing the horns, reeds and percussion to really sell the score. This musical might be a bit more successful if the first act were tightened up a bit, especially before it opens on Broadway. Other than the dynamic opening number and finale of Act I, it’s the final few scenes that leave the biggest impression. All the makings of an excellent show are here, however, and this musical deserves to be seen and heard by area audiences. It’s great to be reminded of what it means to be friends, real friends, forever.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented July 2-August 16 by Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 630-530-0111, TicketMaster at 800-745-3000 or by going to www.DruryLane.com