Music by David Austin
Lyrics by Iris Rainer Dart
Based on the novel Beaches by Iris Rainer Dart
Produced by Drury Lane Productions
in association with Jennifer Maloney-Prezioso
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Music Direction by Brian J. nash
Choreography by Lorin Latarro
At Drury Lane Theatre, Oakbrook
Beaches tries to be too much of a pop commercial musical, rather than a heartfelt friendship play with songs.
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!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: July 2, 2015
For more info checkout the Beaches page at theatreinchicago.com
At Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, IL, call 630-530-0111, www.drurylane.com, tickets $45 – $55 – $ 60, Wednesdays at 1:30 pm, Thursdays at 1:30 & 8 pm, Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 & 8:30 pm, Sundays at 2 & 6 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through August 16, 2015