BWW Review: THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES at Ridgefield Theater Barn Sings the Phrases of AM Radio and 45s
The Marvelous Wonderettes, a jukebox musical on stage weekends through Jan. 4 at the wonderfully intimate, fun, and friendly Ridgefield Theater Barn (RTB), in Connecticut, is an intimate, fun, and friendly show that tugs at the memories and heartstrings of audiences who remember the days when AM radio ruled the airwaves and 45-rpm single records were stacked, not unlike pancakes, on a phonograph spindle. It is directed with purposeful pacing and well-placed mischief by Foster Evans Reese. (Tickets: https://ridgefieldtheaterbarn.org; 203.431.9850).
For Baby Boomers, this 26-song sashay down memory lane is a nostalgiapalooza lollipop of the era's pop anthems, from The Chordettes' "Mr. Sandman" and Dusty Springfield's "Son of a Preacher Man" to The Bobbettes' "Mr. Lee" and The Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack."
The latter is a surefire highlight of the show, staying faithful to the 1964 recording, replete with leather jacketeted lead singer and the visceral mating roar of a motorcycle revvin' up to own the road.
From Prom to Reunion
Act I is the 1958 senior prom of Springfield High, with songs true to that era, such as Doris Day's "Teacher's Pet" and The Everly Brothers' "All I Have to Do Is Dream." Act II flashes forward a decade to the Class of '58's 10-year reunion, where the generational soundtrack features tunes like Leslie Gore's "It's My Party" and Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin's "Respect."
Along with the set (Joanne Gorenstein), the wigs and wardrobes (by Brenda D. Renfroe) heighten the show's cutesy sense of camp, evoking the late '50s with popsicle-hued crinoline dresses (peach, cherry, lime, etc) and channeling the late '60s with go-go boots, maxed-out mini-skirts, and top-heavy bouffant hairdos.
Strong Lead Vocalists
The Wonderettes are led by the notably strong voices of Rena Gavigan, as shy, sweet-natured Missy, who self-effacingly keeps everyone in line, and Sarah Giggar, as self-regarding, preening Cindy Lou, whose dreams of Hollywood stardom boomerang, landing her back in Springfield.
Ms. Gavigan (who I shared a stage with nine years ago in Fiddler on the Roof at Yorktown Stage) has a beautiful high register while Ms. Giggar flaunts country music chops with a sassy, full-throated rendition of "Son of a Preacher Man."
Broadly comic moments that occur between, and sometimes during, musical numbers are bolstered by the effusive antics of Tarah Margaret Vega as Betty Jean (aka BJ) and Lauren Nicole Sherwood as Suzy (who has a "bump" at the reunion), who also bring a lot of vocal verve to their lead-singer assignments.
Together, the ladies' four-part harmonies get the job done by bringing back time-capsule classics that bring Boomers back to those crazy, hazy halcyon days.
Immersive Theatrical Ambience
The four performers all exude strong stage presence, and even reach beyond the stage, to enlist the help of a couple of strategically-placed audience members, and to collect ballots placed at each seat for the Prom Queen voting.
In this way, Ridgefield Theater Barn is delightfully savvy at creating a thematic ambience for every one of its productions. Here, the Wonderettes show program is supplemented by an authentically down-and-dirty senior prom pamphlet listing the prom's menu and schedule of events. RTB doesn't just put on a show; it conjures a palpable mood that breaks the fourth wall through audience immersion. Other community theaters should take note.
The groovy-sounding five-piece band on stage is led by musical director and keyboardist Benjamin McCormack, with Nathan Huvard on guitar, Sabrina Mason on keyboard 2, Jordan Tulley on drums, Kyle Camerato on reeds.