Director Gordon Cantiello remembers standing outside the Howard Street Tavern, giving away tickets to his musical revue “Beehive” when it opened in July 1992.
“Nobody was buying,” he said. “Whoever heard of ‘Beehive’?”
But when the show caught on, it hit big.
The potent mix of 1960s hits by girl groups (the Shirelles, the Chiffons, the Supremes) and pop-rock divas (Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin) became Omaha’s hottest ticket, thanks to a gifted cast of six singer-dancers.
“Beehive” is the longest-running continuous stage show in Omaha history, lasting 10 months and 220 performances before closing in May 1993.
Now Cantiello is reviving the show for a 20th anniversary run, starting next weekend at the Waiting Room Lounge in Benson. Four of the 1992 cast members are returning with it: Ginny Sheehan Hermann, Sue Gillespie Booton, Tiffany White Welchen and Kathy Tyree.
In fact, they asked Cantiello to bring the show back.
“What happened was I had a 50th birthday party in March,” Hermann said. “All the girls came. We just started talking, wouldn’t it be great to do it again?”
“The girls” include Jean Peterson and Donna Ball, who joined the cast for a 1996 revival, also directed by Cantiello, after original cast members Brijette Cooper and Kathy Kautz left Omaha.
The 1996 cast formed such close friendships they continued to socialize regularly after the show ended, getting together for monthly dinners, laser tag, birthdays, bowling, weddings and christenings.
“Kathy and I were in the dressing room at the Howard Street,” Welchen said, “I looked at her and said, ‘You’re going to be my child’s godmother.’ I didn’t even have a fiancee then, but I just knew. And she is.”
“And Tiffany and her husband are my son’s godparents,” Tyree said, tearing up.
All that togetherness gives the women “wiggle room” to have some fun with each other onstage and play with the crowd, Booton said.
But, 20 years later, some weren’t quite sure they could deliver the goods.
“I was a little like, ‘I don’t know, am I too old?’” Booton admitted. “Will people compare me to the former version? As an actress, I want to give 1,000 percent.”
Tyree said everyone thought that, to a degree.
“The jelly don’t jam like it used to,” she laughed. “And we ain’t fitting into those tiny skirts. I think people will recognize and honor that.”
When they looked at a tape of themselves from 1992, they worried all over again.
But Booton, who doubles as the show’s choreographer, insisted on the same fast-paced moves they used in 1992. “The girls” started working out.
“We have amazed ourselves,” Tyree said. “Every step is still there, and we look good doing it!”
Lines of customers are forming all over again. Already, three of eight performances have sold out, and Cantiello is looking at the possibility of adding shows.
The secret to the revival, Hermann said, is Cantiello, whom she called the seventh “Beehive” girl.
Cantiello moved in 1996 to San Diego, where he teaches theater at a private school. He has frequently returned to Omaha to direct top-notch cabaret shows.
“Listening to them and watching them, they’ve gotten better,” he said. “They were fabulous then, but there is a maturity they bring to the roles now. I just watch and I have tears rolling down my face. The memories and the friendships over these 20 years, they’ve deepened.”
At a recent rehearsal, the women launched into the show’s finale, “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” They looked at each other and burst into tears.
“You always wish you had that chance to do something a second time,” Hermann said. “When they see us onstage and see that connection, that’s real. We’re not putting on the love we have for each other. That is just organic, from our DNA.”
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