Talented Cast Makes The Bikinis Enjoyable
By Karen Isaacs
The Bikinis, which is now at Long Wharf Theater through July 27, began life at Goodspeed's Norma Terris Theater in Chester. From there it has played around the country.
Yes, this is a jukebox show and no, it won't push Jersey Boys off the charts. The Bikinis are a fictional Jersey girl group of the 1960s that had very limited and very local success. They made, according the story, exactly ONE record.
The conceit for this show is that they have come together after 20+ years to perform at a New Year's Eve (the millennium, no less which allows for some Y2K jokes that are very dated) at the clubhouse of the Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort. Developers have offered a huge buyouts to the residents but the owners are split almost evenly about whether to take the money. A running gag -- indicative of the level of humor -- is the calling Sandy Shores a "trailer park" rather than a "mobile home resort."
The four girls include Jodi, a lawyer, and her sister Annie who lives in the park -- sorry, beach resort -- and their friends Karla and Barbara from Staten Island. The first half of the show is about how the group got together and started performing in the mid 1960s.
This leads us to a variety of songs from the period including "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," "Be My Baby," "Where the Boys Are," "Under the Boardwalk," up to their original song, "In My Bikinis."
After intermission the group talks about how they grew apart as some went to college and some stayed in Jersey, and the changes in the era of flower children and hippies and the Vietnam War. From this period, the group performs a variety of hits including "Incense and Peppermints," "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma,' "Lay Down Candles in the Rain," "Simple Song of Freedom," "Last Dance," and more.
The set (no designer is credited) is simple -- two cabanas and a fence on which various props are hung. James Roderick does a good job with the relatively simple lighting. The piece is nicely directed and choreographed by Ray Roderick - who has directed at Goodspeed (Mame, My One and Only and others) -- and who is also the co-creator and writer of the show with James Hindman. Both have extensive and excellent credits.
But what makes this show enjoyable are the talented performers, two of whom were in the original production.
Each of the performers score big with some solo numbers. Karyn Quakenbush, who plays Karla, does a terrific job with "Remember, Walking in the Sand," and "Midnight Blue," Regina Levert as the Staten Island Barbara scores big with "Heat Wave" and "Last Dance." Lori Hammel (Jodi) gets to sing the beautiful "Goodbye to You," while Valerie Fagan as her stage sister, Annie, does "Lay Down Candles in the Rain."
In addition, the harmonies of the group numbers are terrific. Unfortunately there are some less than stellar parts of the show -- the impersonation of Elvis and Nancy Sinatra don't work, and the ending of the debate over the buyout over at the resort seemed forced. Was that whole "plot" really necessary?
But for those of us who grew up in the period or who have fond memories of the music, this is an enjoyable way to reminisce. Certainly the night I saw it, the mostly female audience was totally into it, often mouthing the lyrics or waving their arms in the air to the music.
The Bikinis is just right for a hot summer night.
The Bikinis is at New Haven’s Long Wharf Theater through July 27. For tickets and information call the box office at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org.
This review appears at 2ontheaisle.wordpress.com. A shorter version airs on WNHU 88.7fm and www.wnhu.org.