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Buzzing with '60s Sounds and Styles, the Queens of Beehive Bring Some Sting to Off-Off-Broadway

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Six female vocalists in matching miniskirts are having a hullabaloo at New York’s Village Gate theater. In their heavy eyeliner, false lashes and Cutex white frosted nail polish, they gyrate to dances of another era—the watusi and the pony, the frug and the Freddie. Wearing wigs that are teased, sprayed and ratted, they look like volcanoes about to erupt as they lead the audience in a sing-along of The Name Game. “Shirley, Shirley, Bo Birley, Banana Fanna Fo Firley, Fee Fi Mo Mirley…Shirley.”

These six singing explosions are the stars of Beehive, a rafter-raising musical revue of the female sound of the ’60s that is now in its ninth smash month off-off-Broadway. Moving musically from the innocence of 1960, when Sandra Dee was engaged to Bobby Darin, to the troubles of 1969, with bitter anti-Vietnam War protest and flower-power children, Beehive is a nostalgic look backward at the wigged-out ’60s.

It’s also a provocative peek at the styles of the decade. The cast portrays every teen queen from Annette Funicello to Janis Joplin. There’s Lesley Gore in mismatched pastels sobbing It’s My Party (and I’ll Cry If I Want To)and Connie Francis in her blue chiffon prom dress plaintively wondering Where the Boys Are. To get into their characters, the Beehive actresses used a variety of techniques. For her Diana Ross, Jasmine Guy read books about the early Supremes and watched old tapes. “I have my eyelids at half-mast, hair over one eye, and I make sure to keep my legs together when I move,” says Jasmine. “I also keep my head lifted to make sure I have the best lighting.” Clothing is what Alison Fraser uses to get in the mood for her Petula Clark Downtown number. “I put on a polyester jacket and white pleated skirt and top it off with a little Carnaby Street lid,” says Fraser. “Very jaunty.”

The idea of Beehive sprang from the head of Larry Gallagher. A onetime booking agent who signed musical acts for East Coast clubs, Gallagher, 35, decided to assemble his own show in the spring of 1985. He bought 150 albums of ’60s music, and after choosing songs that he felt represented the spirit of the decade, he spent three weeks contacting record labels to get the rights to the music. Gallagher’s cast of six versatile female singers and six male musicians opened cabaret-style at Sweetwaters in New York last fall and then transferred to the 325-seat Village Gate in March. The current production cost $175,000. Quick profits have started talk of moving it to Broadway, but Gallagher says that would destroy the show’s intimacy. “It’s important for the audience to sit back, have a drink and sing with the cast while their lives are being relived on the stage. If it went to Broadway, it would lose all that informality.”

Born in San Francisco, the son of an Air Force officer, Gallagher spent much of his youth moving from state to state. A self-described “product of my generation,” Gallagher says that by the time he attended Texas Tech University, “I was antiestablishment and antiparents. I let my hair grow and even wore bell-bottom jeans with big billowy shirts. In the ’70s I did what a lot of people did. I tried to find myself.”

What Gallagher has found in Beehive is a potential box office honey pot. With a second company opening in Washington on July 14 and road productions planned for next year that include Los Angeles, Denver, Tokyo and Monte Carlo, Beehive should be buzzing for a long time. “The fun of the show is remembering how we were,” says Gallagher. His cast agrees. “Being in Beehive is a gas,” says Pattie Darcy, who does a lusty Dusty Springfield. “It’s got the perfect recipe of comedy, caricature and throw-it-on-the-floor singing.” Most of all, it’s got hair spray. Says cost-conscious Gallagher: “I go through 15 cans a week keeping those wigs in shape.”