Lifestyle & Culture

No Heavy Lifting With ‘Beaches’

March 24, 2014

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Photo of Alysha Umpress as Cee Cee (left) and Mara Davi as Bertie (right) by Margot I. Schulman courtesy Signature Theatre

Photo of Alysha Umphress as Cee Cee (left) and Mara Davi as Bertie (right) by Margot I. Schulman courtesy Signature Theatre

This show is over.

JUDGING BY the sniffling and throat-clearing going on around me at Signature Theatre the other night, I was not the only person reduced to tears by the final scenes of “Beaches,” the weepy book that was turned into a melodramatic movie and now a musical by turns raucous and maudlin. In fact, I wasn’t even the only one begging a tissue from one of my theater-going companions. Forewarned is not necessarily forearmed.

Were we being manipulated by the story of two girls from different worlds who meet as kids and maintain a sometimes bumpy decades-long friendship through letters and occasional encounters? Of course. Did that make a difference? Not really. When brassy Cee Cee Bloom confronted the reality of losing her demure lifelong friend, Bertie White, bells were obviously going off in more heads than mine.

It wasn’t accidental that I was at the theater with two longtime friends, one a colleague-turned-friend of 25 years, the other a former boss and friend of some 15 or 16 years. These are women who are there for me even when I turn away, preoccupied with some new project or booked up with family doings.

One of them is some 20 years younger than I and far more dynamic. There was a time, perhaps 10 years ago, when I saw little but my own shortcomings when I looked at her. Did I avoid looking at her? You bet. But here’s where I was lucky to be one of three, not just two, like Cee Cee and Bertie: Like notes passed at the back of the classroom, explanations ping-ponged over the course of several months and conversations. And when I had calmed down and righted myself, there stood my young friend, just happy to have me back in the game. No drama, just patience and, dare I say it, love. (Just to be clear, unlike in the musical, where Cee Cee actually carries Bertie to and from her sickbed, there was no heavy lifting involved in my case.)

The musical, written by the author of the original book, Iris Rainer Dart, with collaborator Thom Thomas, has holes, and tunes that are not memorable, and lyrics that sometimes border on the banal. (The set piece of the musical is the much-loved “Wind Beneath My Wings,” remembered for Bette Midler’s moving version in the 1988 “Beaches” movie. But “Wind” was not written by this team [Jeff Silbar and Jerry Henley wrote it in 1982] and in fact was a hit for several singers–Lou Rawls, Sheena Easton, Gladys Knight, Gary Morris– long before the movie.)

In the Signature production, Alysha Umphress and Mara Davi, as Cee Cee and Bertie, sing and act their tails off. But they’re not guy pals, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid jumping off the cliff. (Hmm, for that matter, they’re not Thelma and Louise driving off the cliff either.) They’re two women, two longtime friends, facing friendship and its loss. You want to call “Beaches” chick-flick material? Fine, but my chick friends are who I spend some of my richest hours with.

–Nancy McKeon
“Beaches”Photo of Mara Davi as Bertie (left) and Alysha Umpress as Cee Cee (right) by Margot I. Schulman courtesy Signature Theatre
Through March 30
Signature Theatre
4200 Campbell Avenue
Arlington, Virginia 22206
Tickets $47.30 to $104.20
Photos by Margot I. Schulman courtesy Signature Theatre


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