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Ray Roderick has been at Goodspeed many times before - just never as a writer. He has directed some very popular productions at the opera house, with "Mame," "Singin' in the Rain," "My One and Only" and "42nd Street" on his list of credits. He has returned to work on his own musical, "The Bikinis," at Goodspeed's developmental Norma Terris Theatre.
Roderick and James Hindman conceived and wrote the piece, about a one-hit-wonder 1960s girl group whose members come back together two decades later. The women have all begun new chapters in their lives. Their children have left the nest, and now the mother are asking: What now?
Well, the immediate now involves reuniting for a fundraising concert. It aims to raise money to save Sandy Shores Mobile Home Beach Resort - a story point based on the true story of a trailer park in Florida on the beach and what happened when developers offered $1 million per trailer for people to sell. The catch is, everyone has to agree to sell. In "The Bikinis," two sisters in the girl group end up on opposite sides of that should-we-sell-or-stay debate, providing a little more drama.
About a quarter of "The Bikinis" songs are new creations, complementing a whole collection of familiar hits - "Yellow Polka Dot Bikini," "Heat Wave," "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." The story travels from the 1950s to the '70s, and the songs follow, through the psychedelic sound to protest songs and into disco.
Not only is Roderick the co-creator of "The Bikinis," but he is directing and choreographing it, too.
Here's some of what he had to say during a recent interview:
The score for the show is definitely pop:
"There are a lot of songs people know and love in the show from the '60s and the '70s. I love that era of music, absolutely adore it. In some respects, I grew up with it. I love the pop genre of those times because it changed so radically. ... I wanted to do a big musical journey. I didn't want it to be, 'We're just going to do the mod songs from the '60s' kind of show. As the country was coming of age, the pop songs reflected those times and how much it changed."
Roderick's love of pop worked neatly with his desire to focus a show on girl groups:
"It is something I wanted to do for a long time. I had done some shows that were girl-group-based that I love - I did a show called 'Taffetas,' I did a show called 'Beehive.' My thought was, I would love to do this world of music and this journey of a country and (the members of the girl group) coming of age at the same time. We start very innocent in the '60s when they're teenyboppers. As they grow up, so does our country, in so many respects."
"The Bikinis" provides rich material for female actresses, and that's intentional:
"I wanted to explore women onstage, holding court, strutting their stuff with everything they've got going on. There are all these shows written, but there are fewer and fewer roles for women. I just did 'Mame' (at Goodspeed Opera House). It's the joy of working with women who, when something comes out of their mouth, it's powerful. You know they've lived. They've been onstage for how many years. They know what to do. ... How interesting to explore this (story) not with girls but with women."
The show takes its title, "The Bikinis," from the girl group's name. The girls decided to use that moniker because they began singing on the Jersey Shore boardwalk in their bikinis. (While they were at the beach, they jumped into a boardwalk talent show - and they won.) The word "bikini" is a bit of a double-edged sword, Roderick notes:
"It's the title for a reason. It's a loaded word, let's face it. ... It's women saying, 'Hey, look at me, this is me. I'm going to expose myself in a way that I have never been allowed to before. You're going to love it, and I'm empowered by this.' But we also look at bikinis as women as sex symbols, and there's the James Bond women - there's that nerve as well. ... (For the women in this show), they matured, they're coming back together, and they're The Bikinis. 'Oh my god, what does that mean at this age?' The bikini is just a metaphor for women and so many sides of who they really are."
"The Bikinis," Norma Terris Theatre, 33 North Main St., Chester; opens tonight and runs through Sept. 2; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Wed., 7:30 p.m. Thurs. (except 8 p.m. tonight), 8 p.m. Fri., 3 and 8 p.m. Sat., and 2 and 6:30 p.m.. Sun.; $43-$48; (860) 873-8668, goodspeed.org.