Last spring Beck Center presented the musical, JERRY SPRINGER THE OPERA. The production was met with pickets and much controversy. Beck need not worry about hullabaloo with their present production, THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES, unless there is a cat-fight between two audience members wearing the same cotton candy colored prom dress or your candidate for queen doesn’t get elected. (Hey, suggestion to the Beck public relation’s people… have a “wear your prom dress and get in free night.”)
THE MAREVELOUS WONDERETTES is one of those escapist review shows that features familiar music usually sandwiched between some spoken lines that attempt to tell a rather far-fetched story. No one goes to learn anything. It’s all about enjoying the songs and the musical sounds.
And, in this William Roudebush production, there are a lot of songs and musical sounds to enjoy. The voices are good, the costumes era correct, and there is enough humor to get the most stodgy member of the audience to tap his feet and sing along with the 1950s and 60s songs.
The review was the brain child of Roger Bean, whose mother was a varsity song leader, the precursor to the present show choirs (think Glee). The participants entertained at school functions and dreamed of becoming celebrities. A local Brush High School group, The Poni Tails, actually succeeded in having a number one song on the national charts, several more hits, and a brief career.
In 1998, Bean was asked to write a new musical. Supposedly inspired by his mother's past, he assembled a number of era songs and set them into a theme of best friends, singing at their prom, and the ensuing teen-age conflicts. Eventually, The Marvelous Wonderettes opened in New York City in 2008 where it ran until 2010.
Those of you who are old enough, think back to 1958. Those not old enough, this was the era of chiffon, prim and proper, and no worry about recessions or The Tea Party. Travel back to the fictitious Springfield High School prom where we meet the Wonderettes, four girls with crushes, hopes and fantasies as big as their crinoline skirts and hair! Don’t worry about the story line, it is incidental. Just focus on such songs as “Lollipop,” “Dream Lover,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Lipstick On Your Collar,” “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” and “It’s My Party.” And finish the evening off by moving forward 10 years, where the group is reassembled for their tenth class reunion.
The quartette consists of the zaftig, outspoken, sensitive Betty Jean (Amiee Collier); the pretty, boy friend-stealing Cindy Lou (Nikki Curmaci) whose dream in life is to be the prom queen; the prim and proper moral leader of the group, Missy (Theresa Kloos); and Suzy (Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly), a gum chewing cutie.
The Beck cast sings well, develops consistent characterizations, moves well and is delightful. Cast members get to vote for the prom queen and get selected to be a teacher heart throb or the French teacher.
The gym prom setting, complete with homemade crepe paper decorations, is perfectly created by Ben Needham. David Glowe’s costume designs are era correct. Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly’s choreography emulates the 50s and later the 60s—the twist, the pony, stroll, hand jive, monkey and the Madison. Musical director Larry Goodpaster has the girls in good voice and the orchestra in perfect tune…underscoring, rather than drowning out the voices.
CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Beck’s THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES is one of those feel good evenings of theatre that is slight on story and long on escapist entertainment. It makes for a delightful evening of nostalgia.