The Marvelous Wonderettes Celebrate One Year Of Magic
The 50's decade was a little before I was a twinkle in my parents' eyes (and now seven kids later...) but the music of that era is so hard not to love. The lyrics and the music just get those endorphins moving and you just want to bop along with the fabulous rhythmic beat. So it's no surprise to me of the success of the off-Broadway show, The Marvelous Wonderettes, is celebrating a milestone performance.
On September 14th, The Marvelous Wonderettes' one-year anniversary will mark their 418th performance, surpassing the runs of landmark off-Broadway productions including Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris (2006), Vampire Lesbians of Sodom (1985), Jeffrey (1993), Closer Than Ever (1989), Bat Boy (2001), Anything Goes (1962 revival) and Torch Song Trilogy (1982).
A cotton candy-colored non-stop pop musical, The Marvelous Wonderettes features the iconic sounds of the fifties and sixties in a journey back to the 1958 Springfield High School prom where the Wonderettes - Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy and Suzy - are four young girls with hopes and dreams as big as their crinoline skirts. Brimming with such classic hits as "Lollipop," "Dream Lover," "Stupid Cupid," "Lipstick on Your Collar," "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me," "It's My Party" and "It's In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)," The Marvelous Wonderettes is a high-octane musical blast from the past.
This interview is different than many others that I have done as we have input from the creator/director and the four current stars of the show. The Marvelous Wonderettes features Kirsten Bracken, Misty Cotton, Christina DeCicco and Lindsay Mendez. But we'll start off the interview with creator/director Roger Bean.
Bean directed the original Milwaukee Rep, Laguna Playhouse and Los Angeles productions of The Marvelous Wonderettes. For the Los Angeles production, MR. Bean received a Los Angeles Ovation Award nomination for Best Director of a Musical, and the show received the 2007 Los Angeles Ovation Award for Best Musical. The Marvelous Wonderettes was also nominated for the 2009 Drama League Award for Distinguished Production of a Musical.
Other musicals and revues created by MR. Bean, commissioned and premiered at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, include The Andrews Brothers (Musical Theatre West, Fullerton CLO, Cabaret Oldtown, Cabrillo Music Theatre); Route 66 (Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Moonlight Avo Playhouse, Invisible Theatre, Seven Angels, Springer Opera House); Honky Tonk Laundry (Centerstage Spokane, Des Moines Playhouse, Oregon Cabaret, Art Station Theatre); Why Do Fools Fall In Love? (Rocky Mountain Repertory, Venice Little Theatre); Life Could Be A Dream (Majestic Theatre, Texas Family Musicals); and the holiday sequel to this show: Winter Wonderettes (Delaware Theatre Company, Laguna Playhouse, Water Tower Theatre, Great Plains Theatre Festival, El Portal Theatre). MR. Bean has had the great pleasure of directing for the Delaware Theatre Co., Laguna Playhouse, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Northlight Theatre, Milwaukee Rep, Madison Rep, Florida Studio, Oregon Cabaret, Skylight Opera, and numerous stages in-between.
TJ: Roger, how did you come up with the idea for the show?
BEAN: I grew up listening to my mother singing these types of songs around the house, so I was already pretty well immersed in the music of the era. My mother had been part of a singing trio in high school, and I had always found that intriguing. Then she showed me some photos from her yearbook of her and her friends as school song leaders (a singing version of a cheerleader) and that opened the floodgates.
TJ: You have received some great critical acclaim for the show, including a Los Angeles Ovation Award nomination for Best Director of a Musical, the 2007 Los Angeles Ovation Award for Best Musical and also the nomination for the 2009 Drama League Award for Distinguished Production of a Musical. Are you surprised with the success that the show has had so far?
BEAN: I'm very grateful that people have responded so well to it. I've been able to see people enjoy this show in various spaces over the past ten years, so I knew that if we were able to bring it to a wider audience - both in Los Angeles and here in New York - that people would once again respond with the same kind of affection we've seen elsewhere. It's very gratifying. And a huge kick in the pants. In a good way.
TJ: With the show celebrating its one year anniversary off-Broadway, does this hold a special significance for you?
BEAN: It's pretty amazing. A One-Year Anniversary is certainly an impressive milestone for any show -- and to be able to become a long-running 'hit' while the economy melts around us has really been icing on the cake. I'm in Chicago now getting ready to open "The Marvelous Wonderettes" at the Northlight Theatre, and I'm sneaking away for the day to attend the Anniversary show in New York. It's too important -- I knew I just needed to help celebrate the moment and revel in it.
TJ: What is it about the show in your opinion that keeps attracting new audiences as well as return visits from past audiences?
BEAN: There's something about the universality of these characters -- everyone can see someone they know, or even see themselves in one of these characters. And just about everyone went to high school and had some experience with a prom, so audiences can really connect with it. But the real heart of the show is the music, of course. These are some of the greatest pop songs ever written. Songs from that era really tell dramatic stories about young love, and these songs are great little one-act plays that we get to re-enact every night.
TJ: Tell me a little bit about the show.
BEAN: THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES takes place at the 1958 Springfield High School Senior Prom. The entertainment for the evening was supposed to be from the Crooning Crabcakes - the boys from the glee club. The lead singer got suspended from school, so the music teacher gets the girls to form a singing group and perform. And that's what we get to see as audience members - The Marvelous Wonderettes (four high school friends) singing great four-part harmony to their friends, classmates, teachers and chaperones at the senior prom. We get to hear about the girls' hopes and dreams, and we also get to crown the prom queen before the evening is over. The second act has the girls returning for their ten-year reunion, and we get to hear all of those great 60s girl group songs.
TJ: And you just opened a spinoff show, Life Could Be A Dream in LA. Where does this show take the audience?
BEAN: LIFE COULD BE A DREAM also takes place in the same town of Springfield, USA. It's 1960, and a couple of former members of the Crooning Crabcakes are trying to form a music group to win a radio contest. The group grows until it is four guys, and they sing all of that amazing early doo-wop that was a precursor to rock-n-roll. It's incredibly infectious music. There's also a girl in the show, and this brings up a lot of anxiety and puppy love among the boys. This show is much more of a book musical than Wonderettes. The story takes place over the course of a week -- It doesn't all happen in one night. For fans of Wonderettes, it's fun to meet other characters that have connections to the girls' story: Denny is the son of Principal Varney; Eugene's Dad is MR. Johnson, who runs the candy store that Cindy Lou works at; Wally is a preacher's son, and his brother is Billy Ray, the Crooning Crabcake who got suspended from school, making it possible for the Wonderettes to perform at their prom a few years back. So I think some of our returning fans of Wonderettes will get a kick out of those things.
TJ: And now, you have a holiday edition, The Winter Wonderettes, scheduled to open this year. It seems like the show could just go on for years in many different incarnations. Your thoughts?
BEAN: I do think that the show is ripe for sequels, especially with the way it's set up with each act being a different event in the girls' lives. I do have some ideas for another sequel. We'll see. I do think that this music lives on and on, and for some reason; everyone wants to spend more time with these four characters. As long as people are still eager to see the Wonderettes perform, we'll keep sending them out onstage. THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES was first written in 1999, and the holiday sequel WINTER WONDERETTES was written in 2003, so it's a bit spread out in terms of creation of the pieces. Both shows were created with very specific storylines and ideas; when the right idea comes along, I'll create another sequel. Perhaps something tropical - that'll give me a reason to go do some much-needed research.
TJ: What is something that people don't know about Roger Bean?
BEAN: I run a Theatrical Licensing and Royalty business in Los Angeles (Steele Spring Productions). I license most of my own shows from this company. I grew up Mormon. (I've since recovered). I sang and danced (and clogged) in summer stock in Wyoming & Montana in the 80s. I enjoy just about anything that makes me laugh or makes me gain weight. Go figure...
What's up next for you?
BEAN: I've got WINTER WONDERETTES at Laguna Playhouse, then a new version of one of my old shows ROUTE 66 at Milwaukee Rep. My Wonderettes producers David Elzer and Peter Schneider are going to bring LIFE COULD BE A DREAM to New York sometime next year. We're also talking about another show of mine, THE ANDREWS BROTHERS, making it to New York. I think we'll see WONDERETTES in London soon, as well as Tokyo and other foreign shores. As far as something REALLY new, I'm working on a new (unnamed) project for Musical Theatre West in Long Beach, CA for Paul Garman and Steven Glaudini, and I'm really trying to make sure my new bathroom shower doesn't leak into the basement anymore.
And now, the girls speak out...
Misty Cotton, who plays Missy, has numerous credit to her name including Broadway/First National: Ellen in Miss Saigon, Narrator (opposite Donny Osmond) in Joseph...Dreamcoat, Eponine in Les Miserables. Regional: Violet in Side Show (Ovation and Garland Awards), Cathy in The Last Five Years (Pasadena Playhouse), Coubrette in Sophisticated Ladies (Ovation nomination), Chairy in Barnum (Asolo Rep & Jupiter Theatre with Brad Oscar), Annie in Annie Get Your Gun, Percy in Spitfire Grill, Lucy in Jekyll and Hyde, Nancy in Oliver!, Princess Leonide in Triumph of Love, Eve/Mama Noah in Children of Eden, to name a few. She also originated the role of Missy in The Winter Wonderettes at Milwaukee Repertory.
Playing Cindy Lou, Christina DeCicco is making her Off-Broadway debut in Wonderettes. She was recently seen as Glinda in the National Tour of Wicked. She just finished performing the role of Elmire in Dog Run Repertory's production of Moliere's Tartuffe at South Street Seaport. Regionally she was seen as Eponine in Les Miserables (Barrymore Award Winner), Maria in West Side Story, Hope in Urinetown, Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun and Maria Elena in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. She has also performed in several concerts with the Indianapolis Symphony.
And then there is Lindsay Mendez, who plays Betty Jean. Mendez most recently appeared in Everyday Rapture at 2nd Stage Theater as a "Mennonette" to Sherie Rene Scott. She was an original cast member of the recent Broadway revival of Grease, playing the role of Jan. Regional/Tour credits include: Footloose (Sacramento Music Circus, Kansas City Starlight), Princesses (NAMT, Goodspeed Opera House, 5th Avenue Theater), Grease (European Tour, Fulton Opera House), Call Me Madam (Reprise!), Go the Distance, The Lyrics of David Zippel (Jazz at Lincoln Center, Kaufman Center). Lindsay is also the lead singer of the cover band, Limbsakimbo.
And last but not least, we have Kirsten Bracken as Suzy. Bracken's credits include Broadway's Hairspray (Lou Ann, u/s Amber), Gemini: The Musical (NYMF) and Life in Plastic (American Theater of Actors). Regionally she created the role of Flame in the world premiere of Minsky's at the Ahmanson Theater. Other regional credits include, Thoroughly Modern Millie (Millie), A Chorus Line (Maggie), Annie Get Your Gun (Winnie Tate) and Beauty and The Beast (Babette). Bracken performs as a soloist with symphonies across the country under the direction of Maestros Erich Kunzel and Steve Reineke. Kirsten is a proud graduate of Carnegie Mellon University.
And here we go....
TJ: Did any of you know each other before getting involved with the show?
MENDEZ: I knew Misty Cotton through friends in California, and through my husband, Michael Borth, who is the Musical Director of the Wonderettes, and has been since they first opened here.
DECICCO: I didn't know any of the girls before starting rehearsals, yet I did tour with Victoria Matlock, who I replaced as Cindy Lou. She was Elphaba to my Glinda on the First National Tour of Wicked.
COTTON: I did know a few in the prior cast. Being the first replacement of the original cast and then having 3 new girls come in at the same time to replace the other ones it's like I've done 2 different shows and it's been really great working with this newest cast as well.
BRACKEN: We quickly became good friends. They are such fun to share the stage with every night.
TJ: This sounds like it must be a blast to perform this show. How does it feel to you when you get out there each night?
MENDEZ: I'd say at the beginning, it feels like, "Alright kids...hang on to your hats...we have a BIG night ahead of us!" The show is a blast to do every night, but it also requires ALOT of stamina and energy. So, you have to gear up and know that once you walk on that stage, you're not walking off until it is over. And the constant energy of the show makes it really entertaining to be apart of every night. With each new audience, you just never know what might happen, and that makes it new and fresh every night.
DECICCO: The show is really a great rollercoaster ride. Its actually interesting, because we get to experience a great amount of silliness even within the feminine constraints of the 1950s time period and then show how grounded and strong our character's have become through the social changes of the 1960s.
COTTON: We don't stop singing for 2 hours and never leave the stage. And did I mention we sing 35 songs and never leave the stage? Did I mention that? Seriously-it really is fun when the audience is really responsive. They are absolutely the fifth character of the show and their energy as well can shape the experience not only for us but for themselves and the audience as well.
BRACKEN: Because we're all so close, it is so much fun to be up there with these girls singing and relating to the music. YES, it is as much fun as it looks like it is.
TJ: How has the audience reaction been to the show?
MENDEZ: Our audiences are phenomenal. They LOVE the show, and really get involved in it. There is some audience participation required, and they love being apart of it. I love to hear their reaction when they recognize one of their favorite songs...that collective, "Ohhhh, yea!!" It's so much fun. And when we get to talk to people after the show and they just say what a great time they had and how nostalgic it was for them to relive that time period with us.
BRACKEN: It is so fantastic. The audiences love it. It amazes me how enthusiastic they consistently are.
TJ: Do you four hang out with each other outside the theatre?
MENDEZ: Yes...we actually hang out, literally, OUTSIDE of the theatre. You can catch us there most two show days, eating our lunch on the steps. We enjoy our time together on those days...they are marathons, most definitely.
DECICCO: Luckily, the four of us get along really well. We have a lot of laughs in the dressing room which sometimes carries itself out after the show!
COTTON: We occasionally may touch base and maybe have drink after a long week but really no. Most everyone has very full lives outside of the show and we see quite a lot of each other at the theatre so that's a lot of our social time together.
BRACKEN: Wednesday night, since Thursday is our day off, we all go out for a drink and kick back for a few hours.
TJ: Was it easy to bond together with this ensemble piece?
MENDEZ: It was very easy. Learning this show is QUITE difficult when you are being put-in. Kirsten, Christina, and I were put in at the same time, so we bonded together over learning ALL of the harmonies to 35 songs, choreography, and scene-work. (There was quite a bit of tears and hair-pulling through that process). I always say becoming a Wonderette is kind of like going to war...it's a badge of honor you receive once you learn that show and perform it. So, we all have a tight bond that comes with performing a show of this intensity. Plus, we all share 1 dressing room...bonding's GONNA happen.
DECICCO: As long as you remember that these four girls are really best friends, it is not difficult to bond and make the story come to life.
COTTON: We have a great group of women including our fabulous Wonderstudies and I have found it easy to feel at home with my cast members. I think we're very lucky since it doesn't always work out that way and our dressing room is small so that could be not so marvelous.
TJ: What would you like to say to potential audience members to entIce Them to see the show?
DECICCO: Be ready for a good time!
COTTON: This is a show you can bring your children to as well as your 80 year old grandmother. It will take some people back in time and for those younger audience members possibly introduce them to something new. The music is timeless, uplifting, fun and just plain good darn it! If you want to be light hearted, laugh and take a journey to the past and just have a great time you shouldn't miss this. We would love to have you at the prom!
MENDEZ: If you are looking for an experience that will make you laugh, and forget the troubles of the world outside for a couple of hours, then our show is the show for you. How can you go wrong with girls in 4-part harmony, singing the best songs of the 1950's and 60's? AND, hilarity in between them? This show is just a love-letter to an amazing time in our American history. Come check it out...you won't regret it, I promise!
BRACKEN: If you need an escape from the craziness of 2009 and the busy reality of modern life, give us two hours and we will transport you an easier, simpler time. Loose your worries and enjoy the music.
And that's all folks! So get out and see The Marvelous Wonderettes, which plays at The Westside Theatre, upstairs (407 West 43rd Street, between 9th & 10th Aves.). Via subway, take the 1/2/3/7/A/C/E/N/R/Q/W/S trains to 42nd Street/Times Square. Performances are Monday - Wednesday and Friday - Saturday at 8:00PM with matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 3:00PM. Tickets are $79. Call Telecharge.com at 212-239-6200. For more information, please visit www.MarvelousWonderettes.com. And for more information on MR. Bean, visit www.rogerbean.com or www.steelespring.com. And tell the girls, TJ from BroadwayWorld.com sent you. Theatre is my life! Ciao!!!