Photo: Bluebird Imaging
After you see Mammoth Lakes Repertory’s production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” which opened Thursday at the Edison Theatre, across from Cerro Coso College, thank Artistic Director Shira Dubrovner for finding this show from creator Roger Bean.
Once again looking for the right show to present at the right time, Dubrovner thought of Bean’s uplifting, kitschy, throwback comedy as a palate cleanser for some of the Town’s recent legal woes. It’s also a snappy after dinner mint to our “Best Summer Ever” and a great way to kickoff what MLRT might want to call its “Best Winter Program Ever.”
“Wonderettes” is being billed as a trip back to 1958 and the Springfield High School prom with Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy and Suzy, four girls with hopes and dreams as big as their crinoline skirts, but it’s more than that. It’s “American Bandstand” meets “American Graffiti” meets “Happy Days,” with razor sharp wit embedded everywhere, delivered with “I Love Lucy” precision.
A recent hit off-Broadway at New York’s Westside Theatre, the show uses pop songs from the ‘50s and ‘60s as a vehicle to tell its story. A crash course in the Hot 100 Billboard Pop Charts of the era, the play is mostly about relationships, and you don’t need first-hand knowledge of what it was like to grow up during that time to appreciate how little those relationship issues and how we deal with them has changed. Same goes for the instantly translatable humor.
An homage to the high school Songleader squads of the 1950s, Springfield High Songleaders Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy and Suzy, billing themselves as “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” rally together to entertain their classmates, in the process espousing the wonders of four-part harmony vocals.
The first act takes place in 1958 during Senior Prom Night at Springfield High School, with the Wonderettes belting out classics such as “Lollipop,” “Dream Lover” and “Stupid Cupid” with rapid-fire accuracy. Act 2 fast-forwards to the class’ 10 year reunion in 1968, with the song list adapted accordingly by the Wonderettes, who are called upon once again to entertain. In a go-go boots and bouffant hairdos bonanza, they run down a few old numbers, as well as hits from the ‘60s such as the Dusty Springfield classic “Son of a Preacher Man” and Aretha Franklin’s signature “RESPECT.”
Apart from the inter-personal comedy, the show really depends on the individual characters of the four Wonderettes, the only characters in the show, with the exception of the school Principal, heard only in voiceover … and a cameo from an audience member or two … don’t worry, you won’t have any lines!
“We have an outstanding, talented cast for this show,” Dubrovner, the show’s director, noted. “Everyone has singing experience and brings their dedication with them every night.” And it shows. Opening with no less than “Mr. Sandman,” the girls are in sure voice, and they have to be. It might sound dorky and old school, but “Sandman” has a deceptively complicated arrangement, and the cast delivers it with skill.
Kristin Reese, a long-time local and an original founding member of Sierra Classic Theatre who has performed in numerous productions, is over-the-top on target as Missy, the group’s over-achiever. Mammoth newcomer Jacqueline Marie, who’s been singing at the Snowcreek Bistro on Tuesday nights, as well as with numerous Huntington Beach, sparks with electricity as Betty Jean, the group’s emotionally charged, prank-prone class clown. Leigh Ann Battista, a teacher at Mammoth Elementary School who often sings for her students as well as professionally with her band, the Funky Beets, is the happy-go-lucky, bubble-gum chewing ditz Suzy, whose heart is in the right place, even if her spelling and French sometimes aren’t. Amy Grahek, who sings with the Core Shots, is perfectly cast as the pretty, but boy-crazy and boyfriend-collecting ingénue Cindy Lou.
Musical direction and vocal coaching by chorale specialist Stephanie Everson comes in particularly handy with four-part arrangements. There are so many standout group and solo numbers, it’s hard to pick just four favorites! Choreography by Scott Viets gives the songs a swell visual flair to complement the vocals.
With a solid cast, top notch material and a hit parade of classic tunes, it’s no wonder that the “Wonderettes” are marvelous!
“The Marvelous Wonderettes” plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m. through Oct. 21. Tickets are $20/adults and $18/seniors and students. Save by buying a Season Pass for $60 per person, which provides entrance to four shows of the pass holder’s choice. (“Evening with the Stars” $35 ticket counts as two shows.) Call 760.934.6592, or visit www.mammothlakesfoundation.org.