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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Beyond the Beehive with Ronnie Spector

The stretch of Varick Street in Soho that leads to the entranceway to the Holland Tunnel is highly trafficked yet dreary. Yet it is here that City Winery is located, like an expansive suburban New Jersey supper club come to Manhattan. Any new venue for quality music in the city is welcome, however, and City Winery's staff was attentive and their pino grigio flavorful.

Baby boomers filled said space last Friday night, and denhim vests and crimped hair ruled once more. It was the fourth time that rock'n'roll icon Ronnie Spector took to the stage to present her new act, Beyond the Beehive and it was very warmly received by a houseful of fans. It will return to City Winery Saturday, August 18 and Saturday, September 15.

The year was 2003 and I was leaving the Beacon Theater after an Ellen Degeneres show. Spotting Ronnie seated beside husband, Jonathan Greenfield, I went over to say hello, tell her how much I enjoyed her performances and congratulate her on her having, just that week, won the protracted lawsuit against Phil Spector over royalties owed. I told her the news made me happy.

"You're happy?" Ronnie squealed in her best baby-doll, New Yawk voice. "I'm very happy!" I left the theater smiling, thinking Ronnie deserved all the happiness she could gather.

For the large part, Beyond the Beehive is the saga of two Spectors: both Ronnie and her ex, Phil, bound by love (or was it merely lust and mutual ambition?), then contempt. And by a bizarre sado-masochism spanning decades after their marriage, with Phil determined to squash any attempt Ronnie made to revive her career, and by his mad desire to delete her pop music legacy.

This is an oft told tale, largely told by Ronnie herself, as if hoping, understandably, to one day exorcise part of her past. Large parts of BtB echo moments from her 1989 autobio,  Be My Baby: How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness. However, Phil Spector rose once again, not from a grave but from behind bars, to place an injunction against his ex-wife from being able to sing two of her most famous songs in the show: "Be My Baby" and "Baby, I Love You."

"Phil Spector is a bitter, spiteful man," Ronnie said as the following image showed up on the large screens to either side of the stage:

Many in the audience, including myself, came to this show in the name of diva worship, and the Bad Girl of Rock & Roll is nothing if not a diva. "It feels so good to let everything out in front of everybody, it's like therapy" she gushed at one point of the show. Of Mr Spector, she quipped "I should have shot him! I just didn't know where the guns were."

The 90-minute psychodrama told in monologues and songs features a live band, and two screens to either side of the stage that display projected stills and videos from the singer's private collection. These lovingly and vividly annotate her life story.

Ronnie's scripted schpiel is both hilarious and harrowing, though her line readings are awkward at times and lack polish at this point in the show's development. I don't expect she'll be asked to perform "The Vagina Monologues" any time soon. However, Ronnie is not simply acting a part when she cries, coos and laughs. She is reliving it all, the pain and the glory of her life, in a very heartfelt and moving manner. The Agony & the Ecstasy of Ronnie Spector! So, script be damned! Everybody loves a survivor story, and everybody loves Ms Spector.

Projected photos of Ronnie with her friends -- the Beatles, Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, Cher, Joey Ramone -- are a time capsule of a rock & roll Camelot; a time that's gone forever.

At one point, Ronnie said that '60s producers wanted their girl groups to be "little Stepford singers."  But now she's Beyond the Beehive and she's here to prove it.

The rock & roll icon does a number of Spector songs ("The Best Part of Breaking Up," "Walking in the Rain"); covers her ealier Colpix years ("He Did It," written by Jackie DeShannon); does an electrifying cover of "Time Is on My Side;" a superb job singing "Try Some, Buy Some," written for her by George Harrison and released as a 45 on Apple records. "Say Goodbye to Hollywood," written for her by Billy Joel, was for an uncompleted album for Columbia. And her newest efforts have a sharp, modern edge to them; specifically, "She Talks to Rainbows" by Joey Ramone and " You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" by Johnny Thunder, though both songs offer plenty of the siren's familiar "whoa-oh-ohs." Our Bad Girl is not a nostalgia act, she'll let you know.

On the heels of Phil Spector's sentencing for the murder of Lana Clarkson, The Ronettes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Ironically, Phil petitioned the Hall of Fame for many years against the Ronettes being inducted. "The only artists petitioned by their own label and producer," Ronnie points out, bitterly.

Ronnie proudly mentions being invited to the White House by President Clinton to talk about the need to protect recording artists regarding royalties.

"Ronnie has the quintessential 'girl' voice," Cher says in one of the show's video moments. True and, although she may be a Stepford Girl no more, don't count on her having put that Aqua Net and those whoa-oh-ohs away... at least, not just yet. Hopefully, Ronnie can honestly say, "I'm very happy" today.


  1. Sounds like a good show—her unexpurgated autobio is fabulous & I was lucky enough to get a pre-publication proof of it. The sti=uff that lawyers made her take out is out of this world…

    1. I need to buy that. I still have the '89 edition in hardcover.

  2. I loved the show, too DJ. Love Ronnie and so glad things are going so well for her now. And I would love to read the unexpurgated autobio, too. I'm sure it's something else.