Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of I and You
While Beaches first appeared as a 1985 novel by Iris Rainer Dart, the title is best known for the 1988 film adaptation starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. The current musical versionwith lyrics by Dart, who shares book-writing credit with Thom Thomas, and music by David Austindoes interpolate the song that fans of the movie will expect to hear: Midler's hit, "The Wind Beneath My Wings."
The story follows the friendship of Cee Cee Bloom, a brassy singing actress from the Bronx, and Bertie White, daughter of a wealthy Pittsburgh family, from their meeting on the Atlantic City beach in 1951 through the next three decades. To account for the progression of time, the script provides for three sets of actresses in the roles: (the rather terrifyingly intense) Presley Ryan and Brooklyn Shuck are Cee Cee and Bertie as children, Gracie Jones and Maya Brettell teenagers, and Alysha Umphress and Mara Davi adults.
As Cee Cee pursues stardom, pushed discreetly by her overachieving mother (Donna Migliaccio), Bertie is forced to choose between her dream of becoming a fashion designer and marrying the steady young lawyer (Cliff Samuels) approved by her own reserved mother (Helen Hedman). Both women have ups and downs, but the underlying theme is that they need each other.
One problem with having a larger-than-life character of Cee Ceewho looks and acts a lot like Bette Midleris that she tends to steal focus from her more subdued best friend. Bertie may have to deal with matters of life and death, but Cee Cee has to worry about whether being there for her dearest friend means she can't film her television show on schedule.
Umphress grabs the stage whenever she appears, especially as showcased in Frank Labovitz's eye-popping costumes. Davi is poised and charming, but she doesn't get to break out until almost the end of the show. They do get one sweet duet in the second act, "Normal People."
Director Eric Schaeffer keeps the action tripping along, aided by emphatic choreography by Dan Knechtges: specifically, a group dance at a summer-stock theater and a delightfully tacky disco routine being performed in a scene set several years before the actual birth of disco.
Derek McLane has created a scenic design packed with old pieces of furniture, console television sets, table lamps, and suchbut why? The domesticity doesn't match Cee Cee's outrageousness, and the style of furniture doesn't fit Bertie's patrician background.