Powerful performances propel Drury Lane's 'Beaches'
If Drury Lane Theatre's pre-Broadway musical adaptation of "Beaches" leaves you breathless, singer/actress Shoshana Bean is to blame. With her powerhouse voice and ample charm, the Broadway veteran ("Wicked," "Hairspray") sucks all the oxygen out of the room -- in a good way.
The charismatic Bean propels the show as the indefatigable Cee Cee, a Bronx dynamo with an outsize voice and unconventional looks (think Bette Midler and Barbra Streisand, with a smidgen of Cher) who's determined to be a star. That would work if the show was about one gal's journey to the top, but it's not.
"Beaches"★ ★ ★
Location: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, (630) 530-0111 or drurylaneoakbrook.com
Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Wednesday, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 6 p.m. Sunday, through Aug. 16
Running time: About two hours and 45 minutes, with intermission
Tickets: $45-$60; senior and student discounts available; dinner-show packages available
Parking: Free adjacent lot and pay valet service
Rating: For teens and older; contains mature language and subject matter
Adapted from Iris Rainer Dart's 1985 novel, which spawned the 1988 film starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey, "Beaches" is a sentimental tale of opposites who meet as children and whose lifelong bond transcends almost every other relationship. The problem is the show -- with a funny book and sweet lyrics by Dart and Thom Thomas and a pleasing, pop-infused score by David Austin -- focuses mostly on Cee Cee. The musical relegates her best pal, the conventional, ever-encouraging Bertie (Broadway veteran Whitney Bashor), to the role of cheerleader -- a disservice to the character and to Bashor. A lovely singer, Bashor is truly moving and entirely genuine, especially when Bertie confronts her own mortality, but her character deserves more. If "Beaches" really wants to chronicle a female friendship, Bertie's role needs expanding.
Little Cee Cee (crowd-pleaser Presley Ryan) and Little Bertie (Brooklyn Shuck, a charmer who also plays Bertie's daughter Nina) meet as girls on an Atlantic City beach. Their friendship progresses -- mostly through letters, which paper the backdrop of Derek McLane's set -- through adolescence, where the girls are winningly played by Samantha Pauly and Olivia Renteria. They continue to celebrate their successes and support each other through loss, career setbacks and broken marriages, until a misunderstanding leads to estrangement.
The men in their lives are secondary, which explains why Travis Taylor's John -- Cee Cee's director husband -- and Jim DeSelm's Michael -- Bertie's lawyer husband -- are so thinly drawn.
Sensibly and gracefully staged by Signature Theatre artistic director Eric Schaeffer, who directed Signature's 2014 world premiere, "Beaches" is a kind of love story, which includes a couple of first-rate "love" duets in "Extraordinary" and "What I Should Have Told Her." For the record, "The Wind Beneath My Wings," by Jeff Silbar and Larry J. Henley, does appear but not where you expect.
"Beaches" is the story of soul mates, centering on the love that underscores a deep and abiding friendship. Yes, it's sentimental, but it's not mawkish. Yes, it needs some retooling before New York, but it's got good bones and couple of superb actresses in Bean and Bashor, who've earned their chance to soar on Broadway.