I wept and sniffled my way through much of the 1985 novel “Beaches” by Iris Rainer Dart, and again through the 1988 film of the same name, which starred Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey in a tale of opposites attract and a great friendship is born. When I heard that a pre-Broadway run of “Beaches” was coming to town at the expansive Drury Lane Theatre, I was more than a little intrigued. And having heard Dart speak (charmingly) just last week, I was downright excited.
Dart herself has adapted “Beaches” for the stage, and in musical form. She collaborated with Thom Thomas on the book, and wrote the lyrics to music by David Austin; the musical is ably directed by Eric Schaeffer, fresh off the 2015 Broadway production of “Gigi.”
“Beaches,” for those of you who somehow avoided the previous iterations, is the meet-cute story of the brash Cee Cee Bloom and introverted Bertie White, polar opposite personalities who meet on a beach (naturally) in 1951 and form a long and mostly lasting friendship, largely because Bertie supports Cee Cee unconditionally from the get-go.
There are three Cee Cees and three Berties on stage here—occasionally all at once—in little kid, teen and adult form. Little Cee Cee, played by the tiny firecracker that is Presley Ryan, is all curly red hair and personality. I found her voice grating, but she has energy and sass to spare. Brooklyn Shuck, who also plays Nina in the second act, is Little Bertie, and a charming on-stage presence—a good little actor with a sweet voice. Teen Cee Cee (Samantha Pauly) and Teen Bertie (Olivia Renteria) catch the heartache and wanting of adolescence just right, then blend into the ensemble.
It’s Shoshana Bean as the adult Cee Cee in a series of major red wigs that really sets the tone for the show, and she’s a showstopper. All talent and need and self-deprecating humor, her Cee Cee is a human tsunami, steam rolling over everything and everyone on her way to the top. Bean’s voice is a remarkable instrument.
The one constant for Cee Cee is Bertie, played by Whitney Bashor in a warm and heartfelt performance. Her voice is truly lovely; it’s an understated performance, but on a par with Bean.
The first act, which covers the girls’ first meeting in 1952 Atlantic City up to a fateful Hamptons meeting eighteen years later, meanders and needs tightening; it’s not Broadway ready at this point. But the second act delivers the goods. It feels less expository and more emotion-driven, ranging from a Miami nightclub in 1974 to the touching 1985 denouement on the beach.
Women are both the focus of the story and the target audience of the show; male characters, while present, aren’t fully fleshed out. One is a stage director content for a while to be in Cee Cee’s large shadow; the other is a jerky lawyer and a cad. In the end, the girls can only count on each other for support.
Everyone wishes they had a friendship like this, and every woman should drag her sisters, cousins and besties to the theatre to bond. They will not be disappointed.
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