“The Marvelous Wonderettes” by Roger Bean at 6th Street Playhouse – GK Hardt Theatre
|From left: Ashley Rose McKenna, Katie Veale, Julianne Lorenzen, Shari Hopkinson
Photo by Eric Chazankin
Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Too “Marvelous” For Words
Few decades in recent history had as much cultural turbulence as the one spanning 1958 to 1968, but for just a few hours, any social significance recalled from that era will just have to take a backseat to pure entertainment. “The Marvelous Wonderettes” at 6th Street Playhouse is an irresistible delight for the senses. It will please fans of classic pop music and anyone else who loves a good time. To coin a phrase, it’s cotton candy done right.
Although it’s loaded with girlish charm, “Wonderettes” cleverly manages to avoid the saccharine trap, with just the right touch of tartness to keep it light and refreshing. The story begins in 1958, about four high school chums who belong to their beloved school’s song leader squad. The Wonderettes, as they call themselves, have been asked to perform at their “Super Senior Prom”. They are terribly, terribly excited about it, and their stories begin to unfold with each new song. We are treated to gossamer confections like “Lollipop”, “Mr Sandman” and “Dream Lover”, among many others. The clever little gambits used to bring the audience into the action onstage keeps everyone fully engaged from the first moment to the last. But the music! It’s nearly non-stop and performed in such spectacular four-part harmony that the Wonderettes get you to wondering why they haven’t been signed to a record contract and taken their act on the road.
“The Marvelous Wonderettes” by Roger Bean has been a long-running hit and crowd-pleaser right from the start, when it first premiered in Milwaukee in 1999. The show was expanded into a longer version and ran at the El Portal Theatre in Los Angeles for two years beginning in 2006, receiving an Ovation Award. It also appeared off-Broadway in 2008, garnering a Drama Desk Award and running for nearly two years.
At 6th Street, each of the four cast members turns in a virtuoso performance with solidly crafted characters that play off each other like pinballs setting off flashing lights and ringing bells. Julianne Lorenzen (Suzy) and Katie Veale (Missy) are both standouts, possessing incredibly strong, beautiful soprano voices. Shari Hopkinson (Betty Jean) is brassy and bold in both vocal talent and style. Ashley Rose McKenna as the troublemaker Cindy Lou has perhaps the lightest vocal instrument of the four. But when these ladies join together in song, there’s nothing but good vibrations.
There is also exceptional teamwork between director Craig Miller, choreographer Alise Girard and musical director Janis Dunson Wilson, representing a true collaboration of creativity. Miller keeps our attention onstage with frisky staging and crisp dialog, without any slow spots so common in musicals. Girard, in her first full-length show, lends amazing expressive movement to the performers. She did extensive research on singers of the era, and designed it to look like choreography that high schoolers may have done themselves, but still striking enough for a truly professional-looking show. Wilson leads the backstage band unseen but most definitely heard, displaying wonderful musical insight into both vocal and instrumental sounds of the day.
Lighting Designer April George dazzles with special effects that include spinning stars and dramatic spotlights. Authentic costumes by Tracy Hinman Sigrist help establish and maintain the feeling of the era, with huge, stiff petticoats beneath swirling voluminous skirts. At one point the girls roll on the floor and reveal a glimpse of old-fashioned nylon stockings and garters of the 1950s. By the second act ten years have gone by and it’s their class reunion, with cute mini-dresses and go-go boots in day-glo candy colors bringing back the mod fashions of 1968.
The vocal talents of these four young ladies alone would be reason enough to recommend “The Marvelous Wonderettes”. But its bright, lively storyline and setting, and tremendous production values, makes it a must-see.
When: Now through May 13, 2012
8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays
8 p.m. Thursdays
2 p.m. Sundays
2 p.m. Saturday March 24
Tickets: $15 to $35
Location: 6th Street Playhouse – GK Hardt Theatre, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA