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REVIEW: Beaches the Musical is spine-tingling and tender

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beaches the musical iPhoto caption: Photo of Beaches the Musical by Trudie Lee.
/By / May 28, 2024
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How has your best friend changed your life?

In Beaches the Musical, the power of friendship is deep and life-changing, with friends who believe in each other, support each other, and are there for each other through thick and thin.  

This is one of the messages of Beaches the Musical, which delighted its opening night audience at Theatre Calgary last week. It was a buzzy, Broadway-esque event: the international premiere of Beaches the Musical, based on the bestselling novel by Iris Rainer Dart that was made into the 1988 blockbuster film Beaches starring Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey. With a creative team and cast spanning New York City, Calgary, and Toronto, the final show of Theatre Calgary’s 2023-24 season, Beaches the Musical, directed by Emmy Award-winning, Tony Award nominee Lonny Price and co-directed by Matt Cowart, is a very big deal indeed.  

Beaches the Musical shows how the love between friends can be equally as powerful as romantic love. The story follows Cee Cee (short for Cecilia Carol) Bloom, played by Jessica Vosk, and Bertie White (Bertie, short for Roberta, played by Kelli Barrett) through three tumultuous decades of friendship, laughter, and love, after they meet at a New Jersey beach as young girls in the early 1950s. 

Little Cee Cee (Addison Wagman) is bold and flamboyant, while Little Bertie (Cecilia Currie), who’s from a rich family, is a demure bookworm who struggles under the thumb of her controlling mother Rose (Emily Dallas). Yet despite their differences, Cee Cee and Bertie’s friendship endures the tests of time, physical distance, and the challenges within each of their respective lives.

Cee Cee, who starts out as a child actor, grows up wanting to make it big in show business. But despite all her talent, experience, and chutzpah, she struggles to land roles. Bertie, on the other hand, dreams of going to law school and making a difference in the world, but all her mother wants is for Bertie to get her MRS.

The story jumps backward and forward in the duo’s friendship, with flashbacks to the past (childhood, teen years, young adulthood and adulthood) and circling back to the present (in the 1980s, when the women are in their early 40s). It’s an effective storytelling device that brings emotional depth. For many years, they stay in close touch by writing letters.

Young Bertie and Young Cee appear near the beginning and throughout the show, bringing lightness, sweetness, and fun as well as poignancy, to the trajectory of their friendship. Toward the conclusion, Nina Barron, Bertie’s daughter, played by Alba Evora Weiler, helps bring the story full circle with the continuation of life and love.

The men — handsome John Perry, Cee Cee’s husband (ably played by Brent Thiessen) and Michael Barron, Bertie’s stuffy husband, scion of a wealthy family (Nathan Gibb Johnson), selected for Bertie by her mother — add to the drama and romance. But the real spotlight illuminates the lifelong love that exists between the two best friends.  

The story of Beaches the Musical unfolds naturally, with the songs seamlessly fitting into the action. Lyrics are by Dart, and the music — by turns passionate, uplifting, triumphant, tender, and reflective — is by Mike Stoller (with the exception of “The Wind Beneath My Wings,” which was written by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley and sung by Bette Midler in the 1988 film adaptation of the story). “Show the World” — where Bertie, Cee Cee, Teen Cee Cee (Jillian Hubler-McManus), Teen Bertie (Katie McMillan), Little Bertie, and Little Cee Cee all share the stage and spotlight — is particularly evocative and beautiful, with exhilarating orchestrations and an uplifting message about believing in friends and their dreams. The choreography, too, by Jennifer Rias, is gorgeous — this number for me was spine-tingling.

The singing throughout the show is strong and heartfelt — shout-outs to Thiessen, Gibb Johnson and both female leads, particularly Vosk as Cee Cee, who is in a majority of the scenes; her performance is a tour de force. The solid supporting cast adds moments of humour and tenderness in the action, and beauty to the singing (Dallas, Janice Carnes, Hubler-McManus, Gibb Johnson, Jamie Konchak, Kayla MacKenzie, McMillan, Perry, Eric Wigston). And the live band, led by music director Katie Coleman, accompanies the singers with verve.

The key creative team members from New York have done a stellar job. Kudos in particular to sound designer Kai Harada and projection designer David Bengali. The scenic design by James Noone evokes the various settings and time frames clearly, and is especially lovely with the beach setting and seaside backdrop. The costume design, by Tracy Christensen, is vivid and portrays the characters’ personalities well — especially Cee Cee’s outfits, a study in contrast to the chic and tasteful clothing worn by Bertie. Lighting design by Ken Billington is effortless, as well, seamlessly delineating the transitions and action.

A two-and-a-half hour show, including a 20-minute intermission, Beaches the Musical is a crowd-pleaser, garnering chuckles at the jokes, applause after most of the songs, and a standing ovation at the conclusion of last Friday’s premiere. 

If you have a yen for catchy tunes, love stories, and everything else that makes the most successful Broadway productions so memorable and universal, invite your bestie to Theatre Calgary to see Beaches the Musical. 


Beaches the Musical runs at Theatre Calgary through June 16. Tickets are available here


Intermission reviews are independent and unrelated to Intermission’s partnered content. Learn more about Intermission’s partnership model here.

Jacqueline Louie
WRITTEN BY

Jacqueline Louie

Jacqueline Louie is a Calgary-based freelance writer and editor who covers everything from business, to travel, to human interest stories, to history. She studied French and German literature at the University of Calgary and has a deep appreciation of live theatre. Jacqueline, a classically trained violinist, strongly believes in the power of music to bring people together.

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