By John Quinn
So what do we know about "The Bikinis, a new musical beach party!" other than its title is in need of judicious editing? If we know it's in production at Meadow Brook Theatre, then we can rest assured that Ray Roderick and James Hindman's K-Tel-like compilation of pop music hits has potential. Blasts from the past sell well at Meadow Brook.
The market forces are compelling. Nostalgia draws age groups to the art of their childhood, wherein one finds that familiarly breeds comfort, not contempt. There are still a lot of baby boomers around – there was an unprecedented number to begin with. Therefore, there is a big demand for the so-called "jukebox musical," revues that feature the music of a specific era, wrapping a plot so lacking in complexity that its development subtracts as little time as possible that could be devoted to music. It's a crowded field. Can "The Bikinis, a new musical beach party!" avoid drowning in a rising tide?
The plot won't float your boat; it's full of holes. In short, the summer of '64 finds four young vacationers (Bambi Jones, Jeanne Tinker, Stephanie Wahl and Stacy White) thrust into the local "talent" show wearing only the famous swimwear that inspired the name of the one-hit-wonder girl group. After 35 years, these friends are back together, headlining a show to raise funds to keep real-estate developers from getting the trailer park. Over time, they've grown apart. If their bods are no longer bikini ready, do they cherish friendship enough to iron out the wrinkles?
Part of "The Bikinis" buoyancy is the source material itself. I cannot objectively address how good the music of my youth was; I've been an addict since my first twist of an AM radio dial. But when all is said and done, "The Bikinis" is a Meadow Brook Theatre production and meets all the expectations that that entails.
Director Travis W. Walter is pretty much a master of the genre and has probably reached the point of blocking scenes in his sleep. He's assembled a solidly talented group of singers, dancers and actors. This triple-threat quartet, aided and abetted by musical director Zachary Ryan and his combo, render the vocals with a predictable polish. All that, understand, while performing precision-drill choreography by Tyrick Wiltez Jones.
Terry Carpenter is the stage manager but you'd have to be reminded of the fact because an audience never notices a stage manager unless something goes wrong. Meadow Brook stage managers don't let things go wrong. "The Bikinis" employs set design by Kristen Gribbin, costume design by Corey T. Globke, lighting design by Matthew J. Fick, and sound design by Mike Duncan. The four define a Meadow Brook approach to technical theater: solid, simple, attractive designs that complement the director's vision and attract without obtruding.
So what sets "The Bikinis, a new musical beach party!" ahead of other jukebox musicals? Nothing. We could be out for a night of the theater watching "Beehive – The 60's Musical," a show that revives hits from roughly the same decades as "The Bikinis."
Where am I going with this? I don't know. Is predictability an evil? Not when a reputation for quality is keeping 'em lined up at the box office. Is accepting a challenge the responsible thing to do? I can only ask the questions and let those with more experience find some answers for me.
Meadow Brook Theatre
207 Wilson Hall, Oakland University in Rochester
May 25-June 21