An Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot … Piece of History

Culture Watch
tags: theater review, The Bikinis



Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.


During the summer of 1964, two sisters and two girlfriends from the Jersey Shore got together and formed an all-girl rock band, the Bikinis, one of many in that era. They staged some concerts, cut a record and thoroughly enjoyed life and music. Some twenty years later they reunited at a concert to raise money to halt a realtor from buying up Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort, a trailer park in their old hometown. The girls, and the old music, tear up the boardwalk.

When they agreed to do the concert they were uncertain if the music of their girlhood was still popular, if they could get along with each other after that period of time and, most importantly, if they could sing the old rock songs as well as they used to do it.

Oh, they can. The ladies can really belt out the old hits, from It’s in His Kiss to Be My Baby to It’s Raining Men and, of course, An Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. They sing, dance, bring back the old days and renew your faith in the human spirit. The quartet does it in the musical The Bikinis, that opened last week at the Westchester Broadway Theater, in Elmsford, New York. The show, which runs through March 19, has been touring the country, earning strong reviews and a building a national following.

The girls do not wear bikinis anymore, but they look good. The first act is mostly a 1960s pop music festival. The girls do a fine job of singing the old hits and dancing about the stage. Each delivers a terrific performance. The music? The music tears the roof off the theater.

In act one of the musical, written by Ray Roderick and James Hindman, the girls also tell the story of their lives as teenagers at the Shore and the development of their group. They talk to each other, and the audience, in sort of a free for all dialogue between songs. This is not a conventional musical.

The play catches fire in act two, when the women reveal secrets about their lives after the summer of ’64. It is where when they drop the girl band image and talk about, and sing about the turbulent era from 1964 to 1979, when the group broke up.

There is much history in the play, and it is covered in an easy, melodic way in the girls’ stories. As an example, there is a nice tale about a girl’s trip to the fabled Woodstock music festival in New York State in the summer of 1969. She never made it. She called home from a pay phone (remember them) and her parents talked her out of going to the festival. So you had her story and then, right away, songs from the Woodstock Festival (a few Melanie hits). They do the same thing with the Vietnam era, talking about what effect it had on their lives and the lives of their friends and then plunge into songs popular when that war took place.

Woven through all of this music (all or parts of 35 songs) are the girls’ personal, touching, and often funny, stories. One became a lawyer, one never married, one almost married a guy and then, nearly twenty years later, did. They tell of their hopes and dreams, family trauma, secrets and plots. Director Ray Roderick, who also did the choreography, did a fine job of showcasing the women and their histories as well as the songs.

One thing that impressed me were the hundreds of black and white slides shown on a wall ta the rear of the stage. Many of these may have been Jersey Shore photos, but I tend to think they were from beaches all over the U.S. That is the great success of the musical. It could be about any beach town in America, from Malibu to Fort Lauderdale to Cape Cod (the producers claim it was based on a true story about a Florida town). The music was the same all over the nation in the ‘60s.

The story of the girls, and the era, also makes this a pretty solid musical. It is billed as a sort of “good old days with the girl bands” but it is really more of a look at life in beach town, good and bad, with all of that memorable music as a backdrop.

The women in the play – Kate Blake, Anne Fraser Thomas, Joanna Young, Karyn Quakenbush and Elise Holman - are superb. They not only sing and dance well, but do a nice job of staging the drama of their personal lives and bring the 1960s back to life, one doo wop at a time.

The musical has some minor problems. The lighting system at the theater is not as focused as it should be. Also, the director keeps the girls back by the bandstand on a large stage. He should get them farther out, closer to the audience.

Other than those small flaws, The Bikinis, any color you want, is a bop dee bop two hours of historical fun.

PRODUCTION: The play is produced by the Bikini Tour company. Lighting: Jamie Roderick and Zack Pizza, Musical Director: Dan Pardo. The play is directed by Ray Roderick. It runs through March 19.




comments powered by Disqus