In Beehive, the final production of a record-setting season for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival, it's all about the songs--there are more than three dozen chart-topping hits in the breathlessly fast-paced musical. But sooner than later, when talking to members of the all-female cast, the conversation steers toward hair.
"I wear three different wigs," said Christina Perrault. "I mean, really. Who would we be without the wigs?"
Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Connie Francis, Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield, Janis Joplin, Cass Elliot—they're all channeled by the ladies of Beehive. To be sure, these incredibly talented performers aren't simply impersonating the greats of rock 'n roll's golden age. Instead, they are igniting ISF's amphitheater with performances that would make all of the aforementioned legends duly proud.
But just for the record, Camille Robinson also wears three wigs in Beehive. Hannah-Jo Weisberg wears only one.
"When I take that wig off, trust me, I'm rocking my own hair," said the redheaded Weisberg.
Just prior to a recent performance, Perrault, Robinson and Weisberg sat down with Boise Weekly to talk about that hair, those songs and their undying love for the women they pay tribute to.
For quite some time now, Beehive has been a wildly popular Off-Broadway musical. That said, I think it's fair to say that the show will be a new experience for Boise audiences. How did it come on your radar?
Weisberg: Well, I can tell you that the second that they announced that it would be a part of this year's schedule, I instantly emailed our director Vicky Bussert and said, "I have to be in this show."
So, let's talk about Victoria Bussert. She's had an amazing run of musicals, all of them huge hits for ISF and its partner, Great Lakes Theater. Through the years, everyone we've talked to that has performed in those musicals raves about her.
Perrault: I remember when I was researching which college to go to, I saw a video clip of Vicky directing some students at Baldwin Wallace University and I instantly thought, "I have to work with this woman." I was just so drawn to her power.
Weisberg: I've known her since 2010, when Vicky was a mentor at a summer camp for high school performing arts students. I knew then that I wanted her to have a role in molding me as a performer. I absolutely had to go to Baldwin Wallace where she was teaching. And through the years, I think it's fair to say that some of the best and brightest from Baldwin Wallace have had the opportunity to work at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Great Lakes Theater.
Robinson: My own relationship with Vicky is quite a bit different, because I didn't go to Baldwin Wallace. You see, Vicky is a huge Lizzie Borden enthusiast and...
Wait a minute. What? Are we talking about Lizzie Borden, the woman accused of killing her parents with an ax?
Robinson: That's the one. Vicky has even spent the night in the Lizzie Borden house. Anyway, there's a stage musical about her called Lizzie, which Vicky directs any chance she gets. So, I was in Lizzie in Chicago, and Vicky was my director. That was last November. She made such a big impression on me. Because of my stature, sometimes I don't get certain parts, but Vicky taught me to be comfortable with my size.
May I ask how tall you are?
Robinson: 5 feet, 11 [inches].
So, casting directors have told you...
Robinson: People have actually asked, "Can you be a bit smaller?" But never Vicky. She's the absolute best.
Camille, I have to ask you about the experience of being named one of the "Hot New Faces of Chicago" by The Chicago Tribune.
Robinson: Yeah, that happened.
Did you at least go out and buy a lot of copies of the Tribune?
Robinson: Well, my aunt did.
So, how about showing some love for your adopted hometown of Chicago?
Robinson: Do I think that Chicago is the greatest place in the galaxy? You bet I do.
Let's dive into the music of Beehive. Christiana, what's on your song list?
Perrault: Where should I start? Well, I do some Diana Ross at the beginning of the show. "Where Did Our Love Go" is a huge crowd-pleaser. Then it's "You Can't Hurry Love," all with some pretty amazing moves from our choreographer Greg Daniels. And then it's "To Sir, With Love."
Let me pause you there. I have to tell you that as you name each of these songs, I can recall exactly where I was the first time I heard them. Just hearing you say "To Sir, With Love," I remember going to the movies to see Sidney Poitier in the film. Audiences must react to this show quite personally, depending of course on when they grew up.
Perrault: You'd better believe it. Every night. And something else happens that's pretty wonderful. When I look out on the audience and see a number of young girls, all I can think of is when I was their age, hoping to do exactly what I'm doing right now. So yeah, I close the first act of Beehive with "To Sir, With Love" and then I get to open up the second act with "River Deep Mountain High."
Holy cow. Tina Turner's 12 o'clock number. Most other shows would probably close with that song. Hannah-Jo, what are some of your songs?
Weisberg: I start things out in the early 1960s with "It's My Party."
I'm sure that I'm not the first to tell you that you look a lot like a young Lesley Gore.
Weisberg: Really? Because not too many other people have said that, but I sure think I look like her. As a matter of fact, I sing another of Lesley's songs, "You Don't Own Me." Some nights I wander into the audience while I'm singing it, and have a little fun with that.
Camille, what are some of your songs?
Robinson: There's "Walking in the Rain," plus, "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman." In the second act, I take over from Christina's Tina Turner and create my own Tina when I sing "Proud Mary." But we also slow things up when I sing "Abraham, Martin and John."
Powerful stuff. Speaking of great leaders, Hannah-Jo, I understand that you like to quote Eleanor Roosevelt.
Weisberg: How did you know that? She said, "Do something every day that scares you."
I'd also be remiss if I didn't mention that you competed in the Miss Ohio pageant. Given all the controversy surrounding Miss America...
Weisberg: Don't get me started...
Well, do you or don't you think that the pageant is long overdue for significant change?
Weisberg: I love the pageant. I loved what it did for me, but I think it's definitely time for a facelift.