BWW Reviews: THE BIKINIS in New Haven
The Bikinis, now playing at the Long Wharf Theatre, is more than just a jukebox revue. Loosely based on a true story about residents in Briny Breezes, Florida, who would not sell their mobile homes, the show is about a 1960s girl group that reunite to raise money for legal fees for residents of the Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort. The quarter million dollar buy out for each resident sounds like a lot until you realize that in this day and age, it simply isn't enough to compensate people to relocate. Enter The Bikinis - Jodi (Lori Hammel), her sister Annie (Valerie Fagan), Karla (Karyn Quackenbush) and Barbara (Regina Levert). They make everyone feel good with the classic pop songs of the '60s and the songs of the early '70s that reflected the changes in American society.
The slender narrative has more to offer than the "Itsy Bitsy Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," which they sing, thanks to the plausible storyline of The Bikinis' being a minor one-hit wonder and the life lessons each of the women learned. For every Side A, there's a Side B, they note, referring to the 45 they had to produce, and that side often has unexpected depth. Along with the winning foursome who make up The Bikinis, director Ray Broderick and Music Director Joseph Baker add unexpected twists and depth with choreography that is just right and with additional music and lyrics (most notably in the country ballad about divorce, "Goodbye to You." The show evokes the memories of America's innocence and slow social changes without being mawkish and the narrative about their career trajectories and personal stories sound honest and sincere. Hammel is thoroughly delightful and plausible as the gutsy leader who has a heart and soul and just enough imperfections to make everyone like and respect her. Quackenbush is fun and funny as Karla. Levert has the verve that can blow away the cobwebs from any song you. Fagan is full of spunk with a bit of mischief. They work well individually and in an ensemble. It would be hard to find a better cast. And when they interact with the audience, they make it seem natural and often spontaneous.
Sound Engineer Miranda Peterson got the sound just right for this production. Payton Carlin's projections were fantastic and added so much to Jamie Roderick's wonderful lighting. Joelle Braun is someone worth watching. Following her success in the previous production, Endurance, she proves that she is on her way to a successful career in costuming. The ladies wore simple black tops and pants that were transformed throughout the 30 plus songs which captured the easy-breezy style of summer, the winds of change of the 70s and the neat-casual look of middle-aged women who are still fit but now comfortable in their own skin. (Note: the cast doesn't look middle-aged, but their characters are.) The clothes are in good taste and the costume changes occur subtly and discretely, as a good haircut and skin rejuvenation should. Joelle Braun. Keep that name in mind!
The Bikinis is a musical romp that will delight middle-aged audiences and young people as well because every generation interprets the music of previous songwriters. Even my seven-year-old son wants to see it again! The show runs through July 29 at the Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Drive, New Haven. (203) 787-4282. www.longwharf.org