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BWW Reviews: THE BIKINIS Sing And Dance Out The Gretna Season

It's the beach - specifically the Jersey shore, on New Year's Eve. And it's not just any New Year's Eve, but it's December 31, 1999. Y2K is approaching quickly, and so is the deadline for a local beach trailer - er, make that mobile home - community of long standing to vote on whether to sell out to a developer. So what do you do when it's possibly the end of the world as you know it, on one count or another?

You throw a beach party and you have a surf band to kick it up - and the mobile home community resident who used to be a girl group star of sorts invites her former castmates (her sister, cousin, and best friend) to put on a show with her looking back at their career.

THE BIKINIS, by Ray Roderick and James Hindman, is a jukebox musical of mostly Sixties women's numbers (musical arrangements by Joseph Baker), currently playing at Gretna Theatre as its season closer. Directed and neatly choreographed by Jason Summers, it's a lightweight excuse to be out of the house this weekend, because Gretna is running it for, unfortunately, only a limited engagement.

For a jukebox musical, the show has real legs - there's an actual plot, and one that holds up for more than five minutes. The cast aren't forced to impersonate prior musical stars, but play former members of a girl group with distinct individual identities that don't have to adhere to the "do I look or sound enough like Elvis?" mold of so many of the genre. And the underlying sentiments of family and female bonding come through loud and strong at the end - though it's not pitched as a women's musical, it's got some of the same underlying thematic elements as MENOPAUSE: THE MUSICAL, without being quite as overt about it. Women with siblings will recognize the "I gave up everything to take care of our father; what did you do?" fight, the "I couldn't do it because I got married" scenario, and the "and then she went off to school, and it all went downhill" story that, among other small tragedies, run through this show like they run through our lives. Better, those topics arise naturally from the cast's interactions, and aren't forced into separate thematic vignettes.

There are shows with strong casts, and when you've only got a cast of four, they'd better be knockouts. Christian Saint-Girard, Gretna's casting director, indeed knocked this one out of the ballpark. The family friend, Barbara, played by Joy Lynn Matthews-Jacobs, is a vocal powerhouse. Formerly on Broadway in THE MUSIC MAN revival, she's been singing in the Encores! series at New York City Center, and has done the national tour of RAGTIME - and speaking of MENOPAUSE, she's the woman who created Power (aka Professional) Woman on stage Off-Broadway. With the obvious and plentiful lung power for soul and gospel numbers, her alto anchors the quartet as definitively as the bass in a men's group.

The lead sisters, Annie and Jodi, are played by Jeanne Tinker - seen at Gretna before in a show for which she's become known, NUNSENSE - and by Dawn Trautman, who recently anchored Happy Days at Allenberry as the pie-baking, fast-tapping Marion Cunningham. Tinker and Trautman are a couple of pleasingly old-school belters, and their sisterly bickering over one's giving up her life to take care of their father at the beach, while the other went to college and law school (and didn't really come out on top anyway) is touchingly realistic as it spills over into everything else in their discussion. Maria Damore, playing cousin Karla from Philadelphia, has a solid jazz vocal background and an equally solid history at Philadelphia-area theatres from Walnut Street to Hedgerow, as well as attitude that won't quit. She's playing a Philly girl that won't let you forget - though it's never even mentioned - that the show The Bikinis wanted so badly to be on, "American Bandstand," began as a Philly show, "Bandstand," in 1952 on what was then WFIL (now WPVI).

There's some nice choreography here by Summers, neatly reflective not only of the Sixties but of the ages of The Bikinis' members in 1999; they've still got the moves, but it's been a while since they've done this together (yes, those "I don't remember that" moments are scripted; they just feel natural).

Great moments include "Where The Boys Are," a fiercely comic "Mambo Italiano" and surf version of "Hava Negila," a nice, brief Melanie tribute, and an absolutely knockout "Midnight Blue". The assortment is a touching reminder that the popular Sixties groups on the East Coast not only contended with beach music and ethnic weddings, but that as the late Sixties came in, most of them either died quickly or lingered on painfully trying to adapt to rock and to Seventies beats and disco. The wide assortment of hit-song Philly and New Jersey groups of the period that went under isn't mentioned, but it's easily recalled as the women transform themselves during their 1999 reunion act.

The lingering question of this show is this: why isn't this run longer? The show is only on through August 25. For tickets call 717-964-3627 or visit www.gretnatheatre.com.


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