Musical Joy Ride in a Time Machine

Published: Friday, February 17, 2017 By: Bruce Apar Source:

For those who fondly recall the pop hits that defined AM and then FM radio of the ’60s and ’70s, there’s a time machine you can climb into at Westchester Broadway Theatre. That’s where a nifty little musical revue called “The Bikinis” is warming the hearts of audiences through the very last day of winter, March 19, when it makes way for the next show, “Mamma Mia.”

As always with jukebox musicals, there’s a modest storyline that serves to stitch together the tapestry of songs—and there’s more than 30 of ‘em, mostly memorable classics, with a few originals thrown in for good measure.

The story of “The Bikinis” is half-inspired by Broadway phenomenon “The Jersey Boys”—the rags to riches story of The Four Seasons—and half-based on the true story of a mobile home community in Florida. That would be the coastal town of Briny Breezes, whose 400-plus trailer park residents in 2007 were offered nearly a million bucks each to vacate their homes so the acreage they occupied could be converted into lucrative high-rise condos.

In this fantasized version of that actual event, written by James Hindman and Ray Roderick, who also directed, the trailer park has been relocated to fictional Sandy Shores, N.J., a state and culture more familiar to the show’s creators, as residents themselves.

It’s New Year’s Eve 1999 as “The Bikinis” opens. Four friends who once were a singing group have reunited to perform a benefit for the locals to raise money for legal fees as they negotiate with the condo developer.

That’s when the time machine starts revving up. Right away, we are reminded of totems of the time, such as Y2K (for Year 2000). That’s shorthand for the very expensive, preventive crisis management that gripped corporate America, wondering if its computer networks would not recognize the new millennium and shut down at midnight. It ended up being a false alarm.

The friends fondly reminisce about their innocent beginnings in 1964, when they impulsively entered a talent contest on the beach in their bikinis and won, then quickly scored a top-charting single(Remember 45s. and the WMCA Good Guys, and Murray the K and his swinging soiree?)Unlike the condo tale, this particular girl group isn’t based on fact, but is an invention, as well as a homage to Jersey Boys. (I suspect there may be an offstage story—with some legal aspects—as to why this show isn’t just called Jersey Girls, although “The Bikinis” is attention-getting enough, I suppose, though the performers are fully clothed throughout.)

The Bikinis’ shooting star quickly fades, and each goes their various ways. There are sisters Jodi and Annie from Paramus, N.J. (Joanna Young and Katy Blake); their cousin Karla from Philly (Karyn Quackenbush); and BFF Barbara, from Staten Island (Anne Fraser Thomas).

We travel with them through the years, as memorable tunes and pop culture references connote the tenor of the times, and the ladies share their own coming-of-age epiphanies.

Right off the bat, there’s the inevitable ditty “(Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny) Yellow Polka Dot Bikini,” and later on, what was the first 45 vinyl record I bought, Chubby Checker’s “The Twist.”

There’s mention of the Princess phone and a very cute bit sending up Annette Funicello, who graduated from black-and-white TV’s “The Mickey Mouse Club” and quickly grew (in more ways than one) into a fixture in the rom-coms of their day, the “beach blanket” genre of movies (that my darling wife Elyse, bless her, still enjoys catching when she surfs TV).

Moving through the ’60s to the ’70s, we hear Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walking,” and the seminally psychedelic “Incense and Peppermints,” by the wonderfully named Strawberry Alarm Clock. The single-named Melanie gets a lot of lovin’ with a rousing rendition of “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain),” inspired by her experience while performing at 1969’s iconic Woodstock festival.

Evocative of the anti-war sentiment of the day is Tim Hardin’s “Simple Song of Freedom,” popularized by the great stylist Bobby Darin. As our musical journey wends its way into the late ’70s, disco descends on us with “I Will Survive” and “It’s Raining Men,” hallelujah!

Backed by a lively and versatile four-piece band on stage (two keyboards, guitar and drums), under the direction of Dan Pardo, the four singing actors work very well together, each projecting a distinctive and strong personality. Adding to the fun vibes, they are convincingly convivial in their shared history and friendship.

“The Bikinis” is a bouncy joy ride of nostalgia, especially if you have a hard time relating to the music your kids plug into both their ears. Our scratchy-sounding transistor radios—about the size of today’s cellphones—came with but a single earpiece, so we could surreptitiously listen to the Yankees’ daytime World Series games while still in school (just in case a teacher wanted to know the score).