Buzz thrill: Sounds of the ’60s scintillate in ‘Beehive’

Riverside Theatre is serving up a sweet little bonbon to a designated demographic with its season opener, “Beehive – The 60s Musical.”

The show, created by Larry Gallagher, is a musical revue of songs from the 1960s made popular by girl groups such as the Supremes and the Shirelles, and iconic female voices like Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin.

While the title of the show is a misnomer – it is not a musical, but really a musical revue, meaning only songs and no real story or character development such as you would find in the book of a proper musical – “Beehive” does have an emotional component.

And that component is fun.

Just go and get used to the fact that people all around you will be singing along to such songs as “It’s My Party” and “The Name Game.” Even before the first note is sung, the audience gets into the act with an early ’60s heartbeat – the two-one clapping that leads into the song “My Boyfriend’s Back,” sung by Kathryn Brunner, who was Elle in last season’s “Legally Blonde.”

Actually, you’ll see the six talented singers venture into the audience for a little participation a couple of times.

And the costumes! Oh my. Kurt Alger goes over the top with a wonderful array of pedal pushers, chiffon, go-go boots, mini-skirts and more. The wigs are also spot-on.

Just don’t leave at intermission, because it is the second act when the bubble gum pops and the performers dive headlong into some great rock ’n’ roll, all met by thunderous applause.

While the first act leaves you wanting more of Tavia Riveé, who delivers an impeccable Diana Ross in “Where Did Our Love Go” and “Come See About Me,” it’s not until the second act that the singers really strut their talented stuff with terrific tributes to iconic voices of the late 1960s.

The second act also shows the decade’s arc, beginning with the death of American innocence – or, perhaps more correctly, American naiveté.

It begins with the tear-jerking “Abraham, Martin and John,” the 1968 song written by Dick Hollar that laments the assassinations of those national leaders seeking to do good and asks the question “Anybody here, seen my old friend …?” It signals the decade’s watershed moment, which unleashed resounding change onto American society. The song is effective enough, though, without the schmaltzy projections of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy.

Quickly following are songs highlighting substantial societal changes for women, such as: “The Pill,’” approved in 1960 for birth control; “Women’s Lib” stirring into the American lexicon; and in 1965, when Helen Gurly Brown took over editorship of Cosmopolitan, turning the previously male-led magazine into one extolling female sexuality and political empowerment.

Also changing with society was the collective female musical voice, one filled with individuality.

Karissa Harris steals the show with her great big, full-bodied tribute to Tina Turner. She’s got the voice, the powerful attitude and the physical projection of the great singer. You’ll go crazy for her sexy “River Deep” and “Proud Mary.”

After the energy Harris unleashes as Tina Turner, Aveena Sawyer comes on stage with some more sedate and beautifully sung Aretha Franklin songs, “Chain of Fools,” “Never Loved a Man” and “Natural Woman.”

Finally, it is Bailey Purvis who brings out the gusto as Janis Joplin. Although her portrayal shows Janis to be surprisingly sober and energetic rather than the singer’s more vulnerable, frayed singing style, she also brings down the house with her big numbers “Somebody to Love,” “Cry Baby” and “Me and Bobby McGee.”

Other standout performances include Caitlyn Caughell, who takes on the role of Connie Francis in an excellent “Where the Boys Are.” She is stunning in a divine early ’60s-inspired teal off-the-shoulder satin dress.

The six on-stage musicians, led by music director and keyboardist Ann Shuttlesworth, form a solid back drop to the singers. Manny Moreira on lead guitar is terrific. You get the feeling, though, that he wants to let loose even more.

Director/choreographer Richard Stafford keeps the fun quotient high, while at the same time honoring the important changes for women during the 1960s. It’s a cute show with some very good standout moments, giving you plenty of reason to sing along or at least tap that foot.

“Beehive – The 60s Musical” runs through Nov. 17 at Riverside Theatre, 3250 Riverside Park Drive, Vero Beach. Tickets start at $35. Call 772-231-6990 or visit RiversideTheatre.com.

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