Created and written by Broadway Directors/Producers Ray Roderick and James Hindman; Music Arrangements by Joseph Baker, with additional music and lyrics by Joseph Baker and Ray Roderick, The Bikinis, a musical revue of mostly 60’s pop hits, is a charming night of fun in the sun.
The Saturday night opener on Pheasant Run Resort’s mainstage proved an intimate setting where anyone could be a star, including members of the audience. The 320-seat auditorium boasts a quaint gallery with not a bad seat in the house. The basic premise of the story surrounds a female, one-hit-wonder quartet holding a 20 year reunion show as a fundraiser for their hometown trailer park. See the full summary here.
Bikinis is actually based on a true story from 2007, when a Florida community called “Briny Breezes” was offered a multi-million dollar deal to sell off their poor little community to a corporation for commercial development. Placing this story in New Jersey supplies additional character material and a different viewpoint.
Yes, this is a musical revue, however, the Fox Valley Rep version also slides into a true comedy offering in the way it handles the script and audience interactions. This is a wonderful thing, creating constant relationship between the audience and the characters. Patrons love the characters so much that they’re eager to willingly suspend their disbelief when an actress missteps down the stairs or the sound system develops a 5-second, hard-to-ignore buzzing partway through the second act.
While the The Bikinis is nostalgic and it’s fun to sing along with songs like “Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini,” “Boots Were Made for Walking,” and “I Will Survive,” the show is comedy gold. That’s particularly seen during the last part of the first act when the girls attempt to recreate the movie “Beach Blanket Bingo” via several songs and a variety of costume changes and additions.
Many revue-style musicals require a full orchestra, or at least a pop or rock band to accompany the small cast of singers. While the original 2010 production at the ReVision Theatre of Asbury Park, NJ used an onstage band, Fox Valley Rep Music Director Jeff Poindexter chose to use a simple piano/keyboard accompaniment, played offstage by Poindexter. This arrangement effectively simplifies the story premise, justifying the impression of these girls going back to to their humble beginnings, while adding personal charm without taking away from the music itself.
The characters verbally interact with and refer to their keyboardist while receiving musical non-verbal responses for added humor, including recorded snare rim shots. The rim shots are in the script, but make little sense for a solo pianist to do. Not being able to see the accompanist for the most part isn’t a detraction, but gives a strange God-like impression of who is accompanying them, especially when the actresses looked up to the heavens during those dialogues.
Though the score for The Bikinis includes many solos, it’s not constructed to ultimately showcase the vocal ability of individual singers. Perhaps that’s a good thing since the actors appear to have varied levels of solo abilities. The score has scads of three and four-part harmonies ranging from doo-wap background to full-on choral arrangements. With solid harmonic blend of tone, pitch and style, this cast has real musical chemistry.
There is no one “star” of this ensemble-driven production, and each of the four actors lend to the success of the whole.
The part of Annie, the younger of two sisters, is played by Alexandra Gonzalez. Gonzalez appears to be the youngest of the cast, and a bit too young to believably represent one of four ladies in a 20-year reunion after having performed for an additional 14 years. She’s clearly not in her mid-40’s. That said, Gonzalez’s comedic timing and interaction with the audience makes us want to overlook her age.
The character of Barbara, played by Kyrie Anderson, is less developed in the script, however Kyrie’s pretty voice and come-hither performance of songs like “Last Dance” provide a glimpse at her bright stage future. Kristine Burdi brings the clown character of Karla to hilarious life. She’s capable of commanding stage presence without taking away from the other characters or the action. Not only this, but she can sing as well.
Colette Todd, playing older sis Jodie, does exceedingly well in presenting her character as a leader to the girl group and her sister without the usual catty or bratty conventions so often resorted to by lesser actors. She’s completely convincing in her dialogues, song presentation and interaction with the audience (especially with invented characters Bob and Betty) that patrons feel somewhat disappointed to realize at show’s end that her character is a fiction. If there is a standout performance here, it’s Todd. In fact, the chemistry that develops onstage with the girls is so tight, the audience is pulled into sharing inside jokes in a secret world.
A key challenge for Director Kyle Donahue was to utilize every inch of the stage in a meaningful natural way, while holding interest with the characters and following the general story line while not getting too lost in narratives about the past. He also had to bring out the varying strengths of each actor to the best advantage without letting one overshadow another. These challenges are met flawlessly, and judging by the obvious fun the actors are having, he’s probably well thought of by the cast and crew.
Costumes designed by Kimberly Morris are simple but effective in creating a colorful variety of clothing that these characters might have chosen for this in 1998-set reunion. Standouts are the flowing disco dresses, which every actor looks great in, and extraordinarily well-used accessories that send the audience into laughing fits.
The show itself has a brilliant premise that lends to a simple stage treatment and a host of choices regarding costuming and staging. The story line is predisposed to create easy blocking and movement of props and small set pieces using the actors, with little need for much of a backstage crew. This enabled scenic designer Dan Conley to create an impressive, authentically detailed, static summer Jersey shore setting with two levels, a cabana and partial building with a door.
Actors have ample areas to move and create multiple story scenarios, enter and exit, change accessories, costumes and props without a cluttered or over dressed stage.
One notable addition to the setting is the slide show projected from the inside of the cabana tent, which played throughout the duration of pre-show to curtain-call. It’s the perfect device to pull the audience into the narrative.
Lighting Designer Dustin Derry made good use of both can lights and LED fixtures to create a daylight setting that adjusted to enhance dialogue, song presentation and spotlit audience interaction so seamlessly that an audience hardly notices such specific effects.
There is no posted rating for this show on the program or ads, nor online for the original production, but a PG rating is probably accurate. This said, the most appreciative age audience for The Bikinis would probably be 40+, because these patrons will understand the anachronistic script references, such as a “45” and the accompanying “A and B sides.” This show should do very well at this resort venue, along with other theaters up in Door County.
Anyone craving a mini-vacation or who enjoys the oldies and lots of laughter should come out to catch The Bikinis‘ summer run.
“The Bikinis” at The Pheasant Run Resort Mainstage, 4051 E. Main St., St. Charles, runs through August 16. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 2 pm. and most Thursdays at 2 pm. Information and tickets ($32 – $42 with dinner packages, group discounts and overnight packages available) are available online here or by calling (630) 584-6300.