The Secret Life of Bees Sets Up a New Buzz!

“Some folk are born on the wrong side of right.” 


“Sometimes you get tired of running against the wind.”


Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Lily and Rachel John as August Boatwright. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

When you look at the creative team for the musical version of The Secret Life of Bees, you cannot fail to be impressed.  Lynn Nottage, the playwright of Ruined and Sweat and who has authored MJ the new Michael Jackson musical has written the book.  It is adapted from Sue Monk Kidd’s best selling novel about young women in South Carolina in 1964.  Duncan Sheik who composed the music for Spring Awakening wrote the music.  Lyricist Susan Birkenhead has received Tony nominations for her lyrics for Broadway musicals.  The director is young, American and upcoming, Whitney White.  In the cast are the original Olivier winning Matilda, Eleanor Worthington-Cox and Rachel John who was London’s original Angelica in Hamilton.  

Eleanor Worthington-Cox as Lily and Abiona Omonua as Rosaleen. (Photo: Marc Brenner)

The story opens in South Carolina where Lily (Eleanor Worthington-Cox) lives in a peach growing county with her abusive father T-Ray (Mark Meadows) and is friendly with a black girl Rosaleen (Abiona Omonua). On her birthday, Lily is made by her cruel father to kneel for hours on raw grits which cut into her knees. Rosaleen, encouraged by President Johnson’s encouragement for African Americans to vote has decided to travel to register but is badly beaten by two white racists.

The two girls decide to run away. Lily has been told by her father that she killed her mother but she has a postcard from her mother with a picture of the statue carving of a Black Madonna from Tiburon, South Carolina. It is to Tiburon, another peach growing area, that they hitch lifts. When they get there in a shop they find a jar of honey with the same picture of the Black Madonna. All the hairs stood up on my neck as Lily makes this connection with the last legacy from her mother. They ask who makes the honey and are directed to the home of the Boatwright sisters, May (Danielle Fiamanya), June (Ava Brennan) and August (Rachel John).

Rosaleen and Lily offer to work in return for bed and board. While Rosaleen cleans house, August the Queen Bee of the Boatwright Sisters, teaches Lily the art of bee keeping. These scenes are lit red and full of excitement at this welcoming place. Some are a bit suspicious of the white girl Lily but August is struck by her resemblance to Deborah Owens.

The Cast (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Lily makes friends with Zachary (Noah Thomas) who works with the bees.  We learn about the Boatwright sisters, May who lost her twin April and who suffers from depression, and June who speaks roughly to Lily and whom the history teacher Neil (Tarinn Calendar) often proposes marriage to.  

The title song, “The Secret Life of Bees” is a triumph.  Duncan Sheik’s score is varied with influences from soul and gospel choirs, blue grass and romantic ballads for Lily and Zach.  The First Act ends with August’s rousing “Our Lady of Chains” where she affirms “She’ll be a slave no more”.  In the 1960s America is witnessing the Civil Rights Movement and this musical refers to the murder by the Klu Klux Klan of three Civil Rights Workers in Mississippi.

In Act Two there is excitement as film star Jack Palance visits Tiburon with his African American girlfriend.  There are happy revelations about Lily’s mother.  Rosaleen will get to vote and the Boatwrights will protect Lily from police looking for her and her dreadful father.  There is a lovely set by Soutra Gilmour with cornfields in the background and jars of honey, hives and boxes of peaches stored on wooden benches.   The choreography by Shelley Maxwell is limited and natural in real situations where the women dance in celebration but this show is outstanding for beautiful tunes sung by brilliant voices from the whole cast, and the eight piece band. 

The Secret Life of Bees is a charming piece, beyond the cruelty,  as soft and as sweet as a jar of honey.  Let us hope it will find a further life.  

The Cast with Tarinn Callendar (Neil) and Ava Brennan as June (Photo: Marc Brenner)

Musical Numbers

Act One

River of Melting Sun 

The Girl Who Killed Her Mother 

Sign My Name 

Better Than This 

Tek A Hol A My Soul 

Tek A Hol A My Soul (Reprise)

The Secret Life of Bees 

Fifty-Five Fairline 

All About You 

Our Lady of Chains 

Act Two

River of Melting Sun (Reprise) 

Who Knew? 

What Do You Love? 

Trouble on the House 

What Do You Love? (Reprise) 

Hold This House Together 

Frogs and Fireflies 

All You Need to Know

What’s Never Been 

Marry Me 

The Secret Life of Bees (Reprise) 

Production Notes

The Secret Life of Bees

Music by Duncan Sheik

Book by Lynn Nottage

Original Novel by Sue Monk Kidd

Lyrics by Susan Birkenhead

Directed by Whitney White



Abiona Omonua

Ava Brennan

Danielle Fiamanya

Eleanor House

Eleanor Worthington-Cox

Madeline Charlemagne

Mark Meadows

Rachel John

Richard James-Neale

Shekinah Mcfarlane

Tarinn Callender

Noah Thomas

Daniel Krikler

Chrystine Symone

Marcellus Whyte


Director: Whitney White

Set Designer: Soutra Gilmour

Musical Director: Toby Higgins

Choreographer: Shelley Maxwell

Musical Supervisor: Will Stewart

Lighting Designer:  Neil Austin

Costume Designer:  Qween Jean

Sound Designer: Simon Baker

Orchestrations: John Clancy, Duncan Sheik

Fight Director: Kate Waters


Running Time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval

Booking until 27th May 2023



Almeida Theatre 

Almeida Street

London N1 1TA

Phone: 020 7359 4404


Tube: The Angel

Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge 

at the Almeida

at the evening performance 

on 20th April 2023