AUBURN — The final show of the Finger Lakes Musical Theatre Festival's 60th anniversary season will see it go full circle by paying tribute to women whose voices defined the company's first decade.
"Beehive," which opens Sept. 21, features songs by The Supremes, Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin and more female icons of 1960s music. From "Natural Woman" and Proud Mary" to "Cry Baby" and "Chain of Fools," its hits will be sung by a cast of eight: Abigail Raye, Emily Lynne Miller, Brittney Mack, Crystal Sha'nae, Angela Travino, Khalifa White, Alison Morooney and Quiana Holmes.
Directing and choreographing the show will be the festival's producing artistic director, Brett Smock. Its musical director is Corinne Aquilina.
Wednesday at the festival's offices at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Smock said he was surprised how well "Beehive" assimilates such a diverse spectrum of artists into one show. He noted that it's not an "impersonator show," and said scenic designer David Arsenault's set will feature projection of period video by Brian McMullen to contextualize the time in which those artists performed. Smock also said the show will follow an arc that sees its women evolve from youth and innocence to romance and heartbreak to embracing sexuality and political activism.
"We're making sure that it's difficult to dismiss the fact that this decade was so formative for women, and so critical in them landing ownership of themselves," he said.
Aquilina added that she believes the message of "Beehive," which she has previously performed, is even more important now than it was decades ago.
"It's about strong women. It's women changing and waking up to who they are, and the kind of strength they had," she said.
Though they didn't grow up with its music, many of the performers in the festival's production of "Beehive" nonetheless feel its songs and their messages innately, Aquilina said. They feel the sexual importance of Tina Turner, who moved on stage in a way only Elvis did previously. They feel the political importance of the recently departed Franklin, whose songs scored the civil rights movement.
"A lot of them grew up with their moms and grandmothers," Aquilina said of the cast. "As you talk to them, they say, 'I grew up with this music.'"
And Aquilina and Smock believe that even the youngest audiences who come to "Beehive" will feel those forces, too. And so the show's music, like the festival, will come full circle.
"Aretha will never die," Aquilina said.