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New Zealand group The BeatGirls have been performing here and overseas for 21 years. Since 1996 they’ve gone through 29 women, with both their music taste and their wardrobe both expanding since 1996. On Saturday night I pulled an old school friend along to the opening night of their birthday celebration at Circa Theatre.
The BeatGirls cover interesting ground; they perform at an intersection between musical concert and dramatic performance. They are a New Zealand institution that celebrates the fashion and music from the 20th century.
I knew nothing about them until my theatre editor boss called them “a slice of kiwi culture” and asked me to review the show, knowing me to be an old soul who appreciates old music. All in all, it was a classy affair. Suspended above the stage were the colourful dresses of the decades we would soon be transported to, with a retro-coloured floor from an Austin Powers film set. It was there that we were treated to several songs from the catalogue of “sing-along in the car” classics. Motown, Tom Jones, ABBA, and Tina Turner, to name a few. They didn’t just sing their songs — they danced the moves and wore the outfits.
The costumes themselves were fabulous time capsules of the songs cycled on Classic Hits. After an impressive dance number the three singers would disappear off stage, leaving us entertained by a retro windows movie maker video, only for them to reappear just a few minutes later in a glam rock outfit or a psychedelic ’70s jumpsuit. In between the songs, the story of the BeatGirls was told, acted out, and sung. Yet this was not some distracting interlude — it was told with so many jokes that if one didn’t land, 20 one-liners would soon make you laugh. Each of the singers were also colourful characters, with their personalities shining through the songs and individual dance moves.
As the show continued past the 60-minute mark, the desire to move your hips and sing along became unavoidable. Throughout the audience, old grandparents and young children were all swept up in the birthday celebration. A couple of ten-year olds in front of me arrived in the theatre with their parents, at first sceptical of the hanging dresses and old music. Yet they were so caught up with the dance moves and songs that as soon as the show ended they rushed out to get autographs and photos. This was a testament not just to how the songs were cross-generational, but how the energy and enthusiasm of the performers can easily transfer to school boys and me, the guy in the back row holding his little notebook in the dark. By the time “Oh, What a Night!” by The Four Seasons was sung, I was almost standing up.
The BeatGirls is on for another week and I’d highly encourage anyone who has a free night to drag along a couple of friends to Circa Theatre. It was a much-needed escape from the world of assignments and tutorials, of flat cooking, and staring at your laptop while refreshing your Facebook newsfeed. It was both a retro trip into the past, and a celebration of a Kiwi group’s success. Above all, it was a welcomed reminder of all those complex emotions we love to sing about.
Circa Theatre is currently offering theatre tickets for $25 for those 25 years old and under. Find out more at http://www.circa.co.nz/.