Drury Lane Theatre’s Beaches is more than an ’80s chick flick-turned-musical to capitalize on distaff 40- and 50-somethings’ memories of Kleenex-riddled sleepovers, now guarded by ghosts of adolescence past.
So very much more.
This gorgeously scored, cleverly lyricised, bona fide homage to friendship and actual handwritten letter writing deserves adulation. It won’t be at all surprising if Beaches first cleans up at this autumn’s Jeff Awards, then becomes one of two musicals to open pre-Broadway in Chicagoland (Amazing Grace is the other) before earning Tony acclaim next June.
Yes, this Beaches calling Oakbrook Terrace home is a pre-Broadway run, as the Drury Lane artistic team joins forces with New York Producer Jennifer Maloney-Prezioso (who brought Spring Awakening and Rock of Ages to the Great White Way) with its production.
Proven Broadway luminaries Shoshana Bean (Hairspray, Wicked) and Whitney Bashor (Bridges of Madison County) lead a tight 19-member cast further highlighted by three Chicagoland-based, young stars (Travis Taylor, Samantha Pauly and Olivia Renteria). Together, they tell the story of two extraordinarily dissimilar women who first meet as young girls at the Atlantic City surf.
Bean is the adult, bigger-than-life Cee Cee Bloom (Pauly plays her as a teen while Presley Ryan shines as Little Cee Cee) who literally takes lost, uptight Bertie White (Bashor as the adult version, Renteria as the teen and wonderful Brooklyn Shuck as kid Bertie) “beneath her wing.” If the brief happenstance meeting developing into a lifetime friendship based largely on “a jillion letters” seems so 20th Century, don’t knock it; enjoy it.
Perhaps it’s this nod to unplugged days gone by, commonplace just a few years ago but never to be recaptured, that makes this piece so very poignant—more so, even, than the 1988 film starring Midler and Barbara Hershey. That, plus the honest reminder that even in our hypersexed society, authentic, deep love occurs (probably most often) in meaningful, platonic friendships.
Of course, both works’ foundational genius comes from the novel by Iris Ranier Dart, who collaborated on the musical book with Thom Thomas and wrote the terrific lyrics accompanying David Austin‘s soaring score.
True to its namesake predecessors, the musical Beaches adds a host of wonderful music to the tale of lifelong friendship (complete plot summary may be read here). The anthemic “Extraordinary” ends in a lovely, harmonious sextet of multi-aged Cee Cees and Berties and is further reprised throughout. The gorgeous second act ballad, “What I Should Have Told Her,” is this musical’s it song, destined to become an iTunes favorite when justice is served and the cast recording becomes available.
“Normal People” truly shows the star quality in both Bean and Bashor. Ditto for Bean in production’s final song, “Out There.” And together, the first act duet “The View from Up Here” (with Bean) and second act trio “Living Without You” (with Bean and Bashor) illustrate the silky voice (and stunning good looks) that makes Taylor (playing John, both women’s young adult love interest) every bit their equal. Certainly several of these Chicagoland-based actors deserve offers to realize their Broadway dreams with Beaches; Taylor heads that list.
Longtime Beaches fans (and everyone else) will be glad “The Wind Beneath My Wings” is left in the stage version. Bean’s soulful, stunning rendition would properly awe the Divine Miss M (join the club, Bette). Unfortunately, the movie’s bawdy, comic “Otto Titsling” is left out.
Scenic Consultant Derek McLane capitalizes on Director Eric Schaeffer‘s emphasis on the friendship built via stationery with a simple set serving as a constant reminder to the written word and a large center-set frame used to focus attention, often enabled by Matthew Haber‘s spot-on projections. Alejo Vietti‘s costumes are perfectly appropriate, and Lorin Latarro‘s choreography wonderfully complements both the story and Brain J. Nash‘s talented music direction.
Amidst all these terrific elements of high quality musical theatre, perhaps the greatest take-away from this production is Schaeffer’s and the actors’ work in the final scenes on the beach. The conscious melding of depth, despair, humor, sadness, friendship, music and hope is the essence of grace.
So while each summer a trip to Oak Street, Montrose or North Avenue Beach should be a common experience for every Chicagoan, this summer, a trek to Drury Lane’s Beaches is every bit as important. Because each day gone by without experiencing this deep delight is a life’s day lost.
“Beaches” runs through August 16 at the Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace. Parking is complimentary. Information and tickets ($45-$60 with additional dinner packages and senior and student discounts for some shows) are available online here or by phone (630) 530-0111.