Drury Lane’s Beaches Review – Carry a pack of tissues

If we are lucky in life, we all have dear friends to share our moments of triumph and pain and everything in between.  We have friends that we share certain experiences with – maybe one friend is an exercise buddy.  Another might be the work friend that you can commiserate with when the boss is a dork.  I have a dear friend who I share “female-oriented” movies with, and I’m pretty certain we went to see the movie Beaches together well over twenty years ago.  Fortunately, she was able to share the experience of going to see the musical adaptation of Beaches at the Drury Lane in Oak Brook with me, and we both agreed that it was a terrific shared experience, even as we were wiping our eyes exiting the theatre.   I’m lucky to have dear friends.  And that’s what Beaches tells us, with wise cracks, music, and conflict.  Yes, we have our love lives, but in so many cases, it’s our friendships that endure the test of our short time on earth.   Even as I celebrated the enduring friendships I have, I shed a tear or two for those friendships that got away for whatever reason.  

Shoshana Bean and Whitney Bashor

In association with Jennifer Maloney-Prezioso, Drury Lane is presenting Beaches, A New Musical through August 16, 2015.  The book is by Iris Rainer Dart (the author of the original novel Beaches) and Thom Thomas.  Music by David Austin and lyrics by Iris Rainer DartBeaches is directed by Eric Schaeffer.

 

Presley Ryan and Brooklyn Shuck

Beaches opens in the summer of 1952 on the beach in Atlantic City.  Little Bertie White is lost, and she encounters larger-than-life young Cee Cee Bloom, who is performing and hoping to be discovered by Hollywood.  During the short time they are together, they become fast friends, and proceed to write each other regularly for the entirety of their childhood, sharing their innermost thoughts and strengthening their bond.  Bertie breaks free of her mother’s grasp and meets up with Cee Cee at a small theater where they deepen their friendship, though Cee Cee ends up heartbroken when Bertie shares a night with Cee Cee’s secret love John, the director of the theater.  Some years later, Cee Cee is making it big and she marries John, while Bertie marries Michael, whom she had spurned for many years.  When the four meet up, secrets are revealed and Bertie mistakenly believes Cee Cee and Michael have an affair.  She breaks off the friendship and they go their separate ways: Cee Cee to fame and fortune, Bertie to a discontented life in Pittsburgh.  Finally they repair their friendship and the true test of that bond comes when Bertie becomes gravely ill.

Shoshana Bean and Whitney Bashor

The story is told over the course of thirty years in vignettes that shows Cee Cee and Bertie’s moments of great joy and despair.  The musical numbers provide the emotional underpinnings of the story even more then the dialogue.  Though I knew how the story ended, I was still drawn into their complex relationship, hanging on every note of the various songs. 

 

Josh Kohane, Shoshana Bean, and William Carlos Angulo

In this story, there are three sets of “Cee Cee and Bertie.”  There are the little girls of Atlantic City, the teenagers sharing their letters and lives, and the adults who must meet the challenges of careers and love.  The little girls, played by Presley Ryan (Cee Cee) and Brooklyn Shuck (Bertie) are endearing and amazingly talented.  Presley Ryan perfectly captures Cee Cee’s mixture of bravado and vulnerability, while Brooklyn Shuck sets the tone for Bertie’s sweetness and strength.  The girls’ duets were a delight and their voices blended in sweet harmony.  The teen Cee Cee and Bertie, played by Samantha Pauly and Olivia Renteria respectively, picked up on the friends’ personalities.  I enjoyed their main number The Letters: Out There very much.

 

Presley Ryan, Samantha Pauly, Shoshana Bean, Whitney Bashor, Olivia Renteria, and Brooklyn Shuck

And then we get to Cee Cee and Bertie as adults.  Shoshana Bean completely inhabits the character of Cee Cee.  She is funny and bawdy, even while she is marshmallow soft inside.  Her rendition of The View From Up Here was my favorite number of the entire play – it’s where she reveals so much about herself.  In addition, her version of The Wind Beneath My Wings, the theme song from the original movie, is both heart-wrenching and life-affirming.  Finally, the depth of her heartbreak at the end of the play is summed up Out ThereBean has a lovely voice and her duets with Whitney Bashor as Bertie are terrific.  Their voices blend so well that at times they were as one.  Bashor’s performance as Bertie is excellent.  She has to show her strength of character, even as she is overshadowed by her dear friend’s personality and she nails it.  Bashor has a lovely voice that is showcased in What I Should Have Told Her and Letter: Size D

 

Shoshana Bean and Brooklyn Shuck

Shoshana Bean and Whitney Bashor

Beaches is rounded out with a case of other excellent performers.  Travis Taylor strikes the right note as John, especially with his lamenting solo in Living Without YouLeona Bloom is excellent as the overbearing stage mother, and Kelly Anne Clark exposes Rose White’s overprotective nature.  Bertie’s jerky husband Michael is played with oily aplomb by Jim Deselm.   Michael Accardo as Nathan Bloom, Andrew Varela as Arthur Wechsler, and Holly Stauder as Janice are a terrific support presence for the drama between Cee Cee and Bertie.  The ensemble of dancers and singers fit in perfectly.

Shoshana Bean and Travis Taylor

My only “note” for the cast is to tighten up some of the harmonies going forward.

 

There is not a lot of dancing in this show, but the choreography (Lorin Latarro) for the numbers requiring dancing and movement was excellent.  I especially enjoyed Cee Cee’s big production number All I Need.  The music is fantastic and music director Brian Nash brings it along with conductor Alan Bukowiecki.  The staging is minimal but effective (Derek McLane).  The backdrop is the beach and all of Cee Cee and Bertie’s letters.  My favorite part of the stage is at the end when the beach is in full view and the lighting enhances the emotional impact of Cee Cee and Bertie’s friendship journey.   Costume design is by Alejo Vietti, lighting design is by Howell Binkley, and sound design is by Kai Harada.

 

Bring your tissues and see Beaches.  Beaches will be at Drury Lane until August 16.  To purchase tickets, call the Drury Lane Theatre box office at 630.530.0111 or Drury Lane’s website here.

Photographs courtesy of Brent Beiner.

 

 

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