EDMOND -- Most popular music mirrors the times, said Dennis Courtney, director of "Beehive," the 1960s musical now enjoying a summer run at the University of Central Oklahoma's Mitchell Hall Theater. Performances of "Beehive" are scheduled through Aug. 12. Courtney described "Beehive" as a musical tribute to the rock and soul female singers and singing groups who influenced popular music and culture during a decade that profoundly changed American society. "Beehive is light entertainment, with a lot of laughs and a lot of terrific music," said Courtney, who has carved a music theater career in both acting and directing. Courtney directed UCO's production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat" earlier this year. Courtney said "Beehive" starts with songs from such 1960 girl groups as the Chiffons, Shangri-Las and Ronettes, and ends with some of the powerful women singers at the decade's close like Tina Turner, Janis Joplin, Carol King and Aretha Franklin. "Everytime I hear the music from the show, I hear the originals in my head," added Courtney, who grew up with the Motown sound in his hometown of Detroit. The light-hearted music revue gets its name, Beehive, from the famous 1960s hairstyle. Courtney said the aim of the show is to recapture a time when the biggest thing on a teen-age girl's mind was how to tease her hair into one of the airy hairstyles popular back then. "One of my first conscious memories as a little boy is of my mother and her friends trying to give each other the highest hair they could while listening to the Supremes on the record player," Courtney said. Courtney contends part of Beehive's appeal is that it brings back the early 1960s, a relatively more innocent time. "It was before Vietnam, before all the civil unrest, before the Beatles," he says. "As the decade grew older, the music grew heavier, more complicated and less innocent. "You often can tell the state of the nation and what's on people's minds, or what's happening sociologically, by what's happening in popular music," Courtney added. The actor-director said "Beehive" is also reminiscent of a time when the music people heard on the radio or records was the same music that the artists actually performed in the recording studio. "Back then, they recorded exactly what was there -- the voices, the instruments," Courtney said. "It was not like today where everything on a recording can be 'technoed' to death, or fixed and tweaked, fabricated and sampled." Courtney said "Beehive" features a lot of audience participation. "The success of the show is if we can make our audience excited by that music -- then we've done our job." UCO's StrawHat Music Theatre Works series is featuring two musicals this summer, "Beehive" and "Nunsense A- Men," a musical comedy about a mythical convent run by the Little Sisters of Hoboken. "Nunsense A-Men" runs until Aug. 11. Each musical has its own preshow, with the net result that the young professionals in the cast get paid for four evenings of work a week, Courtney said. On "Nunsense" nights, the Beehive girls perform in a preshow called "The Halos." When "Beehive" is performed, the "Nunsense" players present a preshow called "The Blues and the Brothers." Courtney said he is impressed about how conscientious UCO's music theater department is in teaching its students about the business side of show business. "The faculty goes past the academic side of teaching about performing. They want their students to understand what it takes to get a job once they leave college." Courtney said that is why UCO again recruited him to direct "Beehive." "I think I was brought in because I've had so much experience. I've been on the road, I've done Broadway, I've done commercials, just the show business gamut from A to Z," Courtney said. Working for someone with such experience is an excellent way for young professionals to learn their craft, Courtney said. "What cast members get when they work with me is the professional way of doing things, because I don't know any other way to proceed," the actor-director said. "So what they're getting from me is, for the most part, just what they're going to find in the real world of show business."
Talk all you want about mini-skirts and go-go boots, flower power and sit-ins, Camelot and civil rights. Just don't forget the music. "Beehive," a 1960s musical journey and off-Broadway show that reflects the songs of female vocalists of that decade - Leslie, Brenda Lee,Tina, Aretha, Petula, Dusty, Janis, the Supremes and others - premiered last week at the University of Central Oklahoma's Mitchell Hall as part of the university's new summer stock program, StrawHat Musical Theatre Works. The energetic musical review examines, through music and vignettes, a decade filled with hope and dreams followed by rage and conflict and some of the most intense and self-searching music of our times. Detroit native and current New Yorker Dennis Courtney, director/choreographer for "Beehive," grew up in the middle of the Motown district and left town with his family at the onset of the Detroit riots. He identified the '60s as a "wonderful and tumultuous time always identified by music." His first exposure to music was vocalists like Aretha Franklin and The Supremes, and he grew up in a family that always had the radio on. "To this day, give me a lyric and a note to a song of that time and it takes me home," Courtney said. "'Beehive' follows the more innocent age and music of girl groups who wore Beehive hairdos and sang about love through the years when social and political issues erupted and women began to shed their false eyelashes, bras and uncomfortable shoes for a more natural look,"Courtney said. That's why "Beehive" is a journey that takes many of us home, and there's no sitting still when Aretha, played by UCO graduate Kimberly Jackson, rips out a powerful version of "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" or Tina Turner, played by Aisha Henry, croons "A Fool In Love." The show's repertoire includes songs like "The Name Game," "Where Did Our Love Go?," "It's My Party," "Where the Boys Are," "The Beat Goes On," "Downtown," "Society's Child," "Piece of My Heart" and "Me and Bobby McGee." The remainder of the cast includes Megan Anderson, Alyssa Baldwin, Kendra Campbell, and Abby Redmon - all UCO music theater students or graduates. "Beehive" was chosen as one of the numbers for the StrawHat summer season by UCO professor of music Carveth Osterhaus, who was asked by UCO President Roger Webb to produce the series. Last April, Osterhaus hired Courtney to direct UCO's spring production of "Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Coat," and the two discussed show possibilities for the summer. The '60s musical is the polar opposite of "Nunsense A-Men!," another StrawHat show that premiered June 7, Courtney said. "It's all female, and music is the star of the show,"the director said about the choice for "Beehive."The girls sing up a storm, and we have a rock 'n' roll band that just kicks." The costumes and hairdos reflect the changing times starting with the Beehives of the early '60s through flips and bobs to the natural look that tie in with the songs of Janis Joplin. Courtney laughs at his earliest memories of Beehive hairdos and his 4-feet-11-inch mother whose Beehive hairdo appeared to be half her height. "I'd go into the kitchen and see my mom and four or five other women sitting around the table spraying and teasing and adding hairpieces to make their hair into Beehives ... the higher, the better,he said. "She'd always pray it wouldn't be windy or she'd be like a sail that moved down the street." Courtney remembers that when "girl groups first got started, they were sweet and innocent and white." "As the rhythm and blues influence began with Aretha and Patti LaBelle and Diana Ross, there was a sense of integration in music that began to change how we viewed music and the times,"he said. To Courtney, the '60s were the great harmonies. "The instruments were live and what we recorded is what was there, as opposed to today's music which is tweaked, fabricated and packaged,"he said."In the '60s, people really sang." The challenge to make "Beehive" successful, Courtney said, is to find a cast who is able to sing the songs of these legendary people. The "Beehive" cast members range in age from 19 to 30 and, though not present to experience the colorful decade, all have listened to recordings. "I have told them to sing it in the style of the person, but not to mimic them, to make it their own,"he said. "Beehive is an aerobic workout for the cast, who are like athletes working out the muscles in their throats and keeping their bodies in shape to be able to sing rhythm and blues," said the director. "The cast has worked almost daily every afternoon and evening for the last three weeks." To Courtney, the greatest thing about "Beehive" is the experience of hearing that music. For those who want to know what many baby boomers did for all those hours behind closed bedroom doors with their friends, go see "Beehive." Don't think for a minute they weren't doing the twist and the watusi and the pony and the jerk in front of their mirrors while they talked about boys, which Beatle they liked best, the latest hairdo and what a girl's gotta do to get a little "R-E-S-P-E-C-T." "Beehive" is their story.