Review: THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES Sing Their Way Down Memory Lane
No doubt most of us have fond memories of our senior year in high school, with our Senior Prom being one of the many highlights of that year. Nostalgia for that year fuels the happy story of four friends in THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES, a 1999 musical comedy with a book by Roger Bean that has gone on to be presented in countless productions all over the world, including the current one being presented at Crown City Theatre in NoHo through January 7, 2018, directed and choreographed to bring back starlight memories by Robert Marra with musical direction by William A. Reilly.
Set at Springfield High School, you better believe that the female population has hopes and dreams as big as their crinoline skirts! This holds especially true for the Wondrettes -- four gals with incredible voices who all want to make it big, and by the second act's 10-year high school reunion, you'll find out which of them did. The show, which uses pop songs from the 1950s in Act I and 1960s in Act II as a vehicle to tell its story, pays homage to the high school Songleader squads of the 50s, usually some of the most popular young women on campus. But their true stories as told in the show will open your eyes to their heartache with boyfriends through many best-loved hits of the day including "Lollipop," "Dream Lover," "Stupid Cupid," "Lipstick on Your Collar," "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me," "Dream," "Lucky Lips," and "Sincerely." I guarantee you will be singing along with the foursome, remembering back to what each of these songs meant to you personally.
Act I is set in the 1958 Springfield High School Senior Prom, held in the gymnasium. And with Crown City Theatre being based in the multipurpose room of a church, the setting could not have been more perfect for this show! So realistic was the set design by Joanne McGee-Lamb that one audience patron actually attempted to follow the sign to the boys restroom - which would have taken him backstage - and that, I was told, was not the first time it had taken place!
When called upon to perform as last-minute replacements, the Songleaders - Betty Jean (Kate Ponzio, who recently played the role in an extended run at the Sierra Madre Playhouse), Cindy Lou (Kelsey Boze, also from the Sierra Madre Playhouse cast last summer), Missy (Amanda Walter as the most "nerdy" of the foursome) and Suzy (Reneé Cohen as the gum-chewing ditzy blonde) - rally together to entertain their classmates in four-part harmony, costumed in lovely pastel dresses with matching petticoats designed by Michael Mullen.
No doubt many of us lonely girls developed a crush on a young, handsome teacher who may have been unattainable but still filled our dreams. Such is the case for Missy who reveals her "Secret Love" is "Mr. Lee" and then calls upon an unsuspecting young man in each audience to come up on the stage to portray the role while songs to him or about him are being sung by the foursome. Also included in this scenario are "Born too Late" and "Teacher's Pet" during which Missy lays in his lap. And while it appears this infatuation will lead nowhere, a big surprise takes place for them in Act II, occurring ten years later at their reunion in the same gymnasium, with the girls in updated costumes and the decorations changed to reflect those flower power days.
Before Act I ends, the audience is asked to vote on the Queen of Your Dreams - the Queen of the Senior Prom - who can then name her King. Of course, 4 of the 5 candidates are the Marvelous Wonderettes who eagerly campaign for your vote, using their unique personalities and charm to attracted your attention. It's during this part of the show we learn Betty Jean's boyfriend Johnny has been unfaithful to her with none other than the flirtatious Cindy Lou, setting up many jealous spats between the best of friends. At the performance I attended, Suzy won the contest and named her boyfriend Ritchie as her King, at which point he, as the light booth operator, blinked the stage lights to acknowledge his love for her.
As Act II begins at the group's 10-year reunion in 1968, it's Suzy who arrives slightly late to the stage, obviously in her final months of pregnancy and unable to zip up the white go-go boots worn by the other three! Cohen milked her big belly and mood swings to perfection to achieve every single laugh she could muster from the audience. As the rest of the story unfolds, we learn whether Betty Jean or Cindy Lou married Johnny, and if the two have a chance to remain the best of friends for the rest of their lives.
All and all, this is a musical guaranteed to bring back happy memories of a more innocent time in our lives when music allowed us to express feelings too difficult to share any other way. From "Heat Wave" to "I Only Want to be With You," or from It's My Party" to "The Leader of the Pack," just sit back, enjoy the ride, and sing along to the songs that fill your heart with your own sweet memories as they take you for a stroll down memory lane!
THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES - Written & Created by Roger Bean - Directed by Robert Marra - Musical Arrangements by Brian William Baker - Orchestrations by Michael Borth - Vocal Arrangements by Roger Bean & Brian William Baker, runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm until Sunday, January 7th, 2018 at Crown City Theatre Company, Camarillo Street in North Hollywood, CA 91602. All tickets are $25 and can be purchased online at crowncitytheatre.com or by calling 818-605-5685.
Photo credit: Spencer Sowell