The Bikinis recalls innocent days, nights at Jersey Shore
By Joe Meyers
August 7, 2012
A new coming-of-age musical set on the Jersey Shore — The Bikinis — is designed to take theatergoers back to a more innocent era when none of us had yet heard of Snooki or “The Situation” (or even MTV for that matter).
Four girls who won a talent contest singing together in 1964 and christened themselves The Bikinis return to the shore 30 years later to put on a fundraiser.
The women get in touch with their younger selves and send the audience back in time, as they sing such summer classics as “It’s in His Kiss” and “Where the Boys Are.”
Writer, director and choreographer Ray Roderick grew up in landlocked Illinois but is now married to a woman who spent all of her summers on the Jersey Shore.
“Every summer to have a place at the shore. What a way to grow up,” Roderick said, adding that he and his wife now spend summers in Bradley Beach, N.J.
“One of the great things about going to a beach town when you’re young is that you can be a different person than you are at home. In school, you get pegged for what you wear — at the beach everyone is in bathing suits. They’re all equal,” Roderick said last week during a rehearsal break.
The four women in The Bikinis met as girls during the summer of 1964, which was a pivotal moment in pop culture and fashion.
The light pop sounds of singers like Bobby Rydell and Lesley Gore were being replaced by The Beatles and the other British Invasion bands and young women were baring more skin on the beach.
“The pop singles and AM radio were replaced by FM and LPs — everything changed,” Roderick said of the way music evolved in the mid-1960s.
Very quickly, charmingly simple songs like “Be My Baby” and “Under the Boardwalk” were replaced by “Light My Fire” and “Revolution.”
“It was really a time for the freeing of women. ‘Bikini’ was a loaded word. It was about empowerment, but it was also about being a sex object. It was a paradox,” he said.
“As a woman grows up, it’s still a paradox, because she asks herself the question, ‘Do I still put it on?’ It’s more than just a fun title,” Roderick said.
The four women in The Bikinis had one brief taste of fame in the 1960s when they had a New Jersey AM radio hit with their song “In My Bikini.” Roderick and his writing partner, James Hindman, wrote this song for the show as well as other new material that constitutes about 25 percent of the score.
“We channeled our inner teenage girl,” Roderick said, laughing, of writing the female-centric show with Hindman. “It’s a love story between four women.”
The Bikinis had a test run two years ago in Asbury Park, N.J., but the creators have done a lot of fine-tuning on the show between then and now.
“You always take things one step at a time on a new show,” he said, “but it’s starting to feel like it’s ready for the next step.”
The Norma Terris Theatre in Chester is the developmental space operated by Goodspeed Musicals, which also puts on nationally renowned revivals of classics a few miles up the Connecticut River in East Haddam’s Goodspeed Opera House (where Roderick directed the spring production of Mame).
“It doesn’t get better than Goodspeed,” Roderick said of having the opportunity to work on The Bikinis under its production umbrella. “The support, the process they allow and the team they put together is always great. I think we are getting the show where it ought to be and are ready for New York and beyond.”