Theatre Calgary’s ‘Beaches the Musical’ is an epic musical production.

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Soulmates can exist without romance. Iris Rainer Dart wrote the novel Beaches about two lifelong female friends who meet at a young age on a beach, to tell that story. The story at the heart of Beaches is something that lots of folks can relate to. It’s about those solid friendships that have you bonded to another person for life.
Mary Agnes Donoghue wrote the screenplay for Beaches and the film was released in 1988 starring Bette Midler. It’s since become a cult classic and this musical production at Theatre Calgary is an international premiere. With music by Mike Stoller, and production by Jennifer Maloney-Prezioso, this is a big production for Theatre Calgary. Beaches the Musical is full of talent, epic voices and local talent. It’s a production that will entertain, though some aspects could be developed more.

The musical tells of Cee Cee Bloom (Jessica Vosk), a vivacious and brash musical performer, who meets Bertie White (Kelli Barrett) when they were young children on a beach. They become instant friends, and you can see how opposites attract throughout their whole friendship. Bertie is quiet, reserved, and does what her mother Rose (Emily Dallas) tells her to do. Cee Cee is larger than life and would never let anyone tell her what to do. Her mother Leona (Jamie Konchak) is pretty neglectful. Over the next three decades we see their friendship at all its phases. When they are children (Addison Wagman plays Little Cee Cee and Cecilia Currie plays Little Bertie), teens (Jillian Hubler-McManus plays teen Cee Cee and Katie McMillan plays Teen Bertie) and finally, adults. We watch Cee Cee fall in love with a fellow artist John (Brent Thiessen) and try to convince him that she is not too much for him. Bertie at first resists the life that her mother lays out for her and an arranged marriage to Michael, a rich friend of the family. Bertie doesn’t love him, but winds up marrying him to make her mother happy. The friendship takes a break for a few years due to mistakes on both sides, but then Bertie gets really sick and winds up in care. Cee Cee rushes to her side and decides that her nurse Janice (Sierra Holder) isn’t able to take care of her well enough, and Cee Cee decides that she should do it. She also decides that she should be the legal guardian of Bertie’s daughter Nina (Alba Evora Weiler).

This big musical directed by Lonny Price and Matt Cowart has an orchestra accompanying the performers on stage, with musical director Katie Coleman. Vosk is a powerhouse and brings down the house with every number she sings. Her experience on Broadway gives her the ability to handle the massive character of Cee Cee with nuance and grace. Barrett’s Brand New Me showcases her vocal talents and her ability to also capture the attention of the entire Max Bell Theatre. Beaches plays with timelines and you’ll often see little Cee Cee and Bertie on stage with the adults. This device works well the first couple of times, but the children never change or evolve and come off as really flat when compared to the richness of the adult friendship. This richness should have also been reflected in the friendship between child Cee Cee and child Bertie. Wagman is sassy and adult-like as child Cee Cee and it will be fascinating to see where her talents take her. Currie is such a wonderful contrast to Wagman. These kids are really talented. Holder and Konchak are versatile in playing all the other characters, big or small, that surround the pair. Holder’s subpar singing as Cee Cee’s cast mate is a great addition to the show and Konchak plays up her comedic abilities whenever she gets the chance. Tracy Christensen’s costume design keeps everyone in character with wigs and dresses and James Noone’s scenic design allows the narrative to span different places in one scene using moving panels, and with David Bengali’s projection design. The set design is flexible and allows the children to be in cubby holes in multiple scenes.

Beaches the Musical is an epic production. Big voices, big production value, big musical numbers. Everyone knows the signature song The Wind Beneath My Wings. But what makes this narrative a bit different is the friendship at the heart of the performance. Beaches illustrates that friendship isn’t always easy, but it makes our lives infinitely richer.  

Photo: Kelli Barrett, Jessica Vosk. Credit: Trudie Lee
Photo: Cecilia Currie, Addison Wagman. Credit: Trudie Lee

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