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THEATER REVIEW: ‘Beehive’

From one Beehive to another: what a terrific show.

The new Good Company Players production of the musical revue “Beehive” — a greatest-hits parade featuring songs of the 1960s by famed women artists and “girl groups” — is a frisky, deftly staged evening of fun at Roger Rocka’s Dinner Theater. Larry Gallagher’s concept for the show gives us lots of chances to connect (or, ahem, reconnect, depending on your age) with such classic names as Connie Francis, Petula Clark, Diana Ross and Aretha Franklin, along with such groups as the Chiffons and The Angels. (The show runs through Jan. 13.)

Some portrayals are dead-on. Others are a little looser. But this isn’t supposed to be a celebrity impersonation contest. Most important in any version of  ”Beehive” is to have a cast with great chemistry — and strong vocals. This production has both in abundance. Forget about one queen bee in this hive. There are seven, all given their chance in the spotlight.

Directed with a happy hand by Greg Grannis, the show bops along to a brisk, pleasant beat.

Bounding onto David Pierce’s beautifully designed jukebox-centered set (lighted with a groovy, swirling, occasionally psychedelic vibe by Andrea Henrickson), the cast kicks things off early with “Let’s Rock” and doesn’t let up. The show has a slight bit of narrative that involves the gals gathering for a slumber party and re-enacting their favorite performers chronologically through the decade. But it’s mostly an opportunity to belt out favorite tunes.

One of the advantages of being a longtime theater critic is the opportunity to watch performing veterans in dozens of roles — and appreciating their consistency. For this show, I could devote dozens of paragraphs to Janet Glaudé and Tami Cowger. (And I have in the past, especially in 2007, when they played together in an earlier GCP production of “Beehive.” ) They’re wonderful here, which is no surprise. From Glaudé’s rousing turn as Tina Turner to Cowger’s coy version of “It’s My Party” — I just loved the look of anticipation on her face before launching into the number — their vocal control and poise is powerful all the way.

I can dish out the praise for other cast members as well: Camille Gaston’s accomplished voice as one of The Supremes in “I Hear a Symphony,” Astrid Plane’s wacky stage presence (and abundant vocals) as Janis Joplin in “Piece of My Heart,” Kelly Brianne Hall’s crisp comic timing  in “Will You Still Love Me,” and Teresa K. Gipson’s powerhouse moment as Aretha Franklin in “Respect.”

But in terms of “Beehive,” a relatively new face really made me sit up and say wow. Dorie Sanders, who was a Junior Company member from age 7 to 17 before pursuing a professional theater career, has returned to Fresno. I’ve seen her in “Nunsensations!” and “Calamity Jane” at GCP, but it’s her turn in “Beehive” that really made me realize how strong a performer she is. Her version of “Where the Boys Are” is a comic gem and her vocals on “Downtown” a booming invitation to happy times. Sanders’ charm is infectious.

I have a couple of minor quibbles about the production: I think the bumbling comic moments between the cast could be more sharply played. Hall is funny when she keeps slipping off a chair at one point, but other moments in which the cast goof with each other while playing themselves aren’t as strong as they could be. The sound design is a little tentative when it comes to some of the softer vocals. And one other thing: It looks pretty hokey for the women to pretend to play musical instruments. (It’s harder to pull off not playing a saxophone than you’d think.)

But overall, the show is a dazzling display of talent and goodwill, from Julie Lucido’s peppy choreography to Ginger Kay Lewis-Reed’s blissful period costumes. (There’s nothing quite like seeing seven pairs of white go-go boots stomping merrily away.) “Beehive” should enter the holiday season with a great deal of well-deserved buzz.

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Pictured: Tami Cowger, Dorie Sanders and Astrid Plane in “Beehive.”

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