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Regional Reviews by Zander Opper

The Bikinis
Long Wharf Theatre

Also see Fred's reviews of Gypsy, Julius Caesar and A Midsummer Night's Dream


Karyn Quackenbush and Cast
The Bikinis, the musical revue now playing at Long Wharf Theatre, is a tidal wave of fun that will surely please audiences fond of the songs that this show celebrates. The songs span the eras of the 1960s to the 1970s and feature such enduring hits as "It's in His Kiss," "Under the Boardwalk," and, most prominently, considering the title of the show, "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini." If the story that The Bikinis hangs its songs upon is a little on the corny side (The Bikinis, a girl group, are throwing a fundraiser to save a mobile home beach resort from being torn down on the eve of the year 2000), the musical numbers are all pretty dynamite. With a cast of four enormously talented performers, and a swinging onstage band, The Bikinis is lighter than air and almost guaranteed to send the audience out smiling.

As created and written by Ray Roderick and James Hindman, with additional music and lyrics by Joseph Baker and Ray Roderick, The Bikinis concerns the reunion of the four women who make up the girl group The Bikinis. They formed the group in the early 1960s and, through the use of carefully chosen songs, the show chronicles their journey from the 1960s into the late 1970s. But it must be stated that their story and the dialogue in the show really take a back seat to the songs themselves. And one of the nicest things about The Bikinis is that, in addition to glorious harmonizing in the group numbers, each of the performers gets her chance to shine individually.

Though I really shouldn't pick favorite moments from a cast of equals, Valerie Fagan, as Annie, is a real hoot dressing up as Nancy Sinatra and singing the immortal "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" on a surfboard. She later charms the audience in the second half with the tune, "Look What They've Done to My Song, Ma." As her sister Jodi, Lori Hammel is equally delightful, belting out "Shakin' in the Sand"—dressed as Elvis!—before relating how she got through her divorce in the country song "Goodbye to You." As Barbara, Regina LeVert is a real live wire right from the start with "Heat Wave" and she continues with a dandy "Secret Agent Man," then finishes off with "Last Dance," as the group celebrates the disco era. Not to be forgotten, Karyn Quackenbush as Karla sparkles, delivering "Remember (Walking in the Sand)," and then later brings the most moving moments to the show when she sings "Dedicated to the One I Love," as pictures of soldiers in Vietnam are projected onto the back wall of the theatre. She also sings an especially lovely "Midnight Blue" in the second half that really endears her to the audience.

Speaking of the audience, for those coming to see The Bikinis, be warned that there is some audience participation: at the performance I attended, two men were led onstage to do "The Twist" (and both were pretty terrific). But please don't let this hinder you from buying a ticket. The Bikinis is a real delight for those familiar with the roughly two-dozen songs featured in the show and Ray Roderick's direction and carefully chosen choreography for the girl group work extremely well. And, of course, there are the four tremendously talented women who transform The Bikinis into an almost non-stop nostalgic ride. So, even if the story is a bit superfluous at times, The Bikinis ultimately proves to be a real winner.

The Bikinis continues performances at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut through July 27th, 2014. For tickets, please visit www.longwharf.org or call (203) 787-4282.


Photo: Diane Sobolewski

- Zander Opper



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