BWW Review: THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES BY THE CASTLE CRAIG PLAYERS at Castle Craig Players
On Thursday, May 11, I had the pleasure of seeing the Castle Craig Players' presentation of THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES at the Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse in Meriden, CT. This comedic musical has the audience laughing from start to finish, while keeping everyone entertained with great oldies songs from the 1950s and 1960s. The excellent singing and acting brought all four characters to life, under the writing of Roger Bean, and amazing direction of Ian Galligan.
The first act features four high school senior girls in a singing quartet known as The Marvelous Wonderettes, performing live at their high school prom. The talented cast maximizes the impact of brilliantly conceived stage business, choreography, facial expressions, and intense dynamics between each other to bring humor to their group performances of "Mr. Sandman," "Lollipop," and "Sugartime," captivating the audience right from the start. Their stunning harmonies are particularly showcased in their performance of the Everly Brothers' "All I Have To Do Is Dream."
The four actresses have such great stage chemistry with each other that they come across as a believable and highly marketable singing quartet that could draw large crowds to their various venues. Since the storyline is one of a performance within a performance, the audience gets to feel as if they are simultaneously attending a theatrical production, and a 1950s/1960s retro concert, with talented singers who truly feel the messages behind their songs. It is clear that all four actresses are having a great time up on stage, bringing positive energy that radiates forth into the audience.
Towards the end of the first act, each audience member gets to impact the play by casting a vote as to which of the Wonderettes gets elected prom queen (and therefore gets to sing lead on an additional song.) The results here could potentially be different every performance, as all four Wonderettes are great entertainers, whether delivering lines, singing lead, singing backup, or harmonizing together.
The second act is set in 1968, with the Marvelous Wonderettes reunited and performing at their ten year high school reunion, opening with Martha Reeves' "Heatwave," and coming across with a flower power vibe, as their once curly hair has become long, straight, and flowing. The humor remains strong throughout the second act, but is also coupled with some seriousness, bringing about the actresses' remarkable abilities to believably convey a wide range of emotions.
Chelsea Dacey impresses the audience with her stellar portrayal of Suzy who is a happy, likeable, bubbly Wonderette who early on establishes herself as the character whose every word and action is anticipated to generate a laugh. This is highlighted by Suzy's misspelling of "Respect" while performing that song. The storyline combines with Chelsea Dacey's tremendous singing and acting talent to make her performance of Lesley Gore's "Maybe I Know," uniquely come across in a way that makes the audience genuinely feel for Suzy's situation, bringing more meaning out of that song than it merely being an anthem for naive young girls who are victims of their own poor choices in boys.
Emma Czaplinski shines in the role of Missy, a Wonderette who has a crush on her teacher, Mr. Bill Lee. This leads to moving performances of songs that Missy dedicates to him. Emma Czaplinski's myriad of musical talent shows forth with an extremely comical performance of "Mr. Lee," a heartfelt serious performance of "Born Too Late," and a believably emotional performance of "Wedding Bell Blues."
Jessica Engster animates the character of Betty Jean, a Wonderette who is willing to go to any extreme to convey her emotions and make her presence known. Jessica Engsters' willingness to go all out on her stage business gives Betty Jean a flair that makes her entertaining to watch at all times. Her expressions during her spirited performance of "Lipstick On Your Collar," convey a strong sense of Betty Jean's persona, in a way that makes her farcical antics all the more amusing.
Jennifer Del Sole brilliantly generates a wide range of emotions from the audience, in the role of Cindy Lou, the Wonderette who tries to upstage Betty Jean, by taking lead on one of her songs, and by having stolen the interest of Betty Jean's boyfriend, something that ultimately leads to a hilarious rapid hand slapping fight between Betty Jean and Cindy Lou. Beyond the humor of her interactions, and the nastiness towards Betty Jean, however, Cindy Lou is a much deeper character. The stand out musical number in the show is the Shangri Las' "Leader of the Pack." Jennifer Del Sole's singing and countenance during that song make the audience deeply feel Cindy Lou's emotions, even across the humorous (comic relief) backup singing of the other three Wonderettes.
I highly recommend THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES, which will continue to run at the Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse in Meriden, CT this weekend (May 12th through May 14th) at 7:30 P.M. on Friday and Saturday night, closing with a 2:00 PM show on Sunday, May 14th. With familiar music telling the story, and four actresses who all bring out the best in each other, THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES is a marvelous show!