"I was really nervous," recalls Jackie Madunic. "I love Tina Turner - she's, like, one of my idols - and I was terrified."
Madunic is describing the first time she rehearsed her role as Turner in the Quad City Music Guild's production of Beehive, and the actress' fears are understandable. The revue, running March 23 through 25, is a celebration of the 1960s' most prominent female musicians - among them Turner, Janis Joplin, Lesley Gore, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Connie Francis, and Annette Funicello - yet in addition to portraying one of our country's most identifiable rock icons, another factor is conceivably adding to the performer's nervousness: Madunic is white. (As, it should be noted, is actress Sarah Ulloa, who plays both Franklin and Ross.)
"We really worked hard," says director Tom Vaccaro about finding African-American performers to audition for Beehive. In addition to notices in local newspapers, he lists, "We sent out fliers to Baptist churches, I contacted people from [2005's] Ragtime, we went to all the colleges around here, the high schools, people from when we did Aida last year ... but we just didn't have African Americans turn out. There was one woman that was, I believe, 62, that auditioned. And that was it.
"So," he says with a shrug. "What can you do?"
You cast the show anyway. And discussing his all-Caucasian, all-female ensemble, Vaccaro says he couldn't be happier with the chosen performers: "When auditions were over, we were ecstatic. We were just ecstatic with who came in."
The director certainly recognizes that the 10 women cast in Beehive may not exactly look like the performers they're representing. "I don't doubt for a moment," Vaccaro says, "that when Jackie and three white girls come out, and they [audiences] look in their programs and they see that it's Tina next ... they might, for a moment, blanch just a little bit.
"But as soon as she opens her mouth - as soon as Sarah opens her mouth, as soon as they all perform - then," he says, snapping his fingers, "it's all gonna disappear. Sure, it would've been great [to have African-Americans in the cast]. But it didn't happen. And I wouldn't trade anyone in the show for anybody else."
While Beehive marks the directorial debut of longtime Music Guild veteran Vaccaro - most recently seen in the organization's Aida and Sugar! - it's a show he has long been acquainted with, having worked at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse during its 1996 run of the musical, and serving as guitarist for a 2005 production at Davenport's First Presbyterian Church.
"I guess it just had to be something that I really felt strongly about," Vaccaro says of finally making the leap into direction. "For years, I thought, 'Well, I like being in them more,' and when this came along ... well, obviously I couldn't be in it."
But with Vaccaro's Beehive familiarity making the show "almost formed in my head" even before rehearsals began - not to mention the 52-year-old's familiarity with the show's musical time frame - the director was insistent that his cast didn't merely perform the music of the period; he needed them to live it.
"Otherwise," he says, "it might as well be karaoke. That's what we didn't want. We wanted to try to make this as much of a re-creation as possible, 'cause that's what people want to hear, you know? They can hear anybody sing a song in a club somewhere, but the essence of this show is going back in time and hearing it the way you remember it."
Not that all of his cast members are old enough to remember it.
At age 20, Ulloa obviously had no firsthand awareness of the '60s music celebrated in Beehive. Yet she proudly admits to a great deal of secondhand awareness.
"My mom always had a record player going," says Ulloa, "or an oldies station - they always had music throughout the house." As for Aretha Franklin in particular, she says, "I've listened to her since I was little. Little little. She is an idol, all the way."
And Ulloa is clearly relishing the opportunity to honor her idol. "I have always been told, my entire life, that I was always going to be in the chorus, because I was too short, I didn't look the part ... and I was so thrilled that this came around. 'Cause you're hearing her on the radio, and you're singin' it in the car, and it's like, 'Oh, man, if this was only in a musical.'" She smiles. "And it is."
For her part, Sheri Hess - who portrays Janis Joplin, among others - is 29, and admits that music of the '60s is "not something I've ever followed, in all honesty. I was a child of the '80s."
What she does follow, though, are local announcements for strong, female roles in musical theatre. "When they do come around," Hess says, "I seek them out. I go hunting. There aren't enough meaty, hardcore, heavy-duty, sink-your-teeth-into-it kinds of roles for women in musicals." And while she concedes that Joplin is "sort of a stretch for me," it's exactly the sort of challenge that women in musicals encounter far too infrequently.
"There aren't many musicals that center solely on the woman in a primary part, as, like, the big 'marquee' role," says Hess. "Which is unfortunate, really, because the balance between men and women that audition for musical theatre in a community-theatre situation is more women than men. Always."
As for Madunic, she has a better recollection of '60s classics than many of her co-stars; born in 1965, she admits to being "a kid who would sit in front of the mirror with my hairbrush and try to sing like these different people. To me, this is some of the best music ever made."
Which doesn't make the challenge of pulling off Tina Turner any easier. "I'm trying to make it as authentic as I can," Madunic says, "and that's tough, 'cause Tina is ... she's a dynamo.
"But the first time I did it, I felt so much support from everybody. There are no divas in this group; everybody is very, very supportive of each other. I really think that I'm going to be able to ... I feel like I'm gonna become Tina!" she exclaims with a laugh.
Vaccaro agrees. "At first, I was actually trying to think of ways I could alter the script to make sense of a white woman in her '40s doing Tina," he says. "Like a Walter Mitty-type scenario or something. And I thought: No. Just let her start singing. Yeah, we have different physical and character types, but in the end, the performance is what's important."
"That what I love about the way Tom cast this," says Madunic. "We're all different ages, sizes, types, personalities - I mean, we're all so unique. And that's what makes it work, I think. 'Cause we're not all lipstick-thin, tiny, Twiggy girls. We're all, you know, real women."
Beehive runs March 23 through 25 at Moline's Prospect Park Auditorium. For information and tickets, call (309)762-6610 or visit (http://www.qcmusicguild.com).