Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Theater Review: The Bikinis -- Long Wharf

Lori Hammel, Karyn Quackenbush, Regina Levert, Meghan Duffy in the Goodspeed productions of the show. Photo by Diane Sobolewski., courtesy Goodspeed Musicals
Just When You Thought Bikini Musicals Were a Thing of the Past...
By Lauren Yarger
As folks enjoy the sand and food from vendors along the Long Wharf Pier in New Haven these hot summer days, folks just a few steps away at Long Wharf Theatre are enjoying a musical beach party of their own.

The Bikinis are belting out some popular 1960s tunes in a musical on the mainstage (co-produced with Miracle or 2 Productions). The show, which got its start over at Goodspeed, is created and written by Ray Roderick and James Hindman. It tells the history (in a very loose plot) of a one-hit musical group known as The Bikinis who reunite in 1999 for a fundraiser to help keep the Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort in New Jersey from falling into the hands of a developer.

Sisters Annie (Valerie Fagan) and Jodi (Lori Hammel) grew up on the property, but don’t agree on whether they should keep their trailer or sell out. They and group members Barbara (Regina Levert) and Karla (Karyn Quackenbush) have lots of memories there. It’s where they got their start as a group.

Their history unfolds around the singing of some 35 hits like “Under the Boardwalk,” Where the Boys Are,” “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” When Will I Be Loved” and “I Will Survive” as the pop ‘60s turn into the peace-loving, anti-war and disco beats of the 70s. Some are lucky at love, others not so much. Will their reunion spark a new era for their friendship?

Musical Directors Don Pardo and Joseph Baker, who also does the arrangements and writes additional music and lyrics, hand out solos evenly so all four actresses get a chance to shine. There also is a very funny parody of the old Beach Blanket movies starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon with the actresses getting to play Elvis and an old Italian mobster among other roles. Audience members are pulled out for a turn at the twist too.

While the plot is really nothing more than a device to since the tunes, the theme here is light fun and the audience seemed to enjoy it (one woman a little too much so as she sang along with every song.) The volume is a bit loud on some numbers (Sound Design isn’t credited that I could find, so maybe that’s the problem).

The production is enhanced by a minimalist set offering two tent cabanas either side of a stage housing the four-member band behind the women and video projections above showing images. Also a hoot was the use of a fan to simulate ocean breeze for one number.

Overall it’s light fun, if a bit too long. I had pretty much had my fill by intermission. The two acts (50 and 45 minutes) would work better combined into one intermission-less, 75-minute presentation that left us wanting more.

The Bikinis throw their beach party through July 27 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Maitinees Wednesday and Sunday at 2 pm, Saturdays at 3. Through July 27. Tickets: $59.50. 203-787-4282; www.longwharf.org

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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