SALT LAKE CITY— The Marvelous Wonderettes was inspired by author Roger Bean’s mother. He was asked to write a new musical and pitched the idea of a show about high school song leaders from the ‘50s and ‘60s who are best friends and are singing at their prom for their friends and boyfriends. What he created is a musical revue, of sorts, filled with romantic pop songs from those two decades. This show differs from the likes of Smokey Joe’s Café or Side By Side By Sondheim in that Roger Bean created a narrative to hang all these pop songs on and tie them all together (or at the very least, narrative creatively tied together by the songs).
The story centers on four girls, all close friends and song leaders at Springfield High School, who have been asked to step in at the last minute to perform at the Super Senior Prom in 1958 when the leader of the glee club was suspended for smoking. The girls perform songs dedicated to their boyfriends, both known and secret, and we see their friendship and flirting (sometimes with each other’s boyfriends) play out through the music. Act One ends with the voting on and announcement of the Prom Queen, who then gets the choice of her Prom King. Act Two takes place ten years later when they are asked to perform for the ten year class reunion. We now get to see what has happened in those ten years and how their situations have changed. The show is quite inventive in how the songs are tied together and made to relate to the various situations that play out.
Director Toni Byrd has assembled a top notch cast for this production and her direction seems effortless. She catches the right balance to make you believe that these four women created this out of their own hard work. Each of the four women is given an opportunity to shine and it is obvious that they are having a great time on stage. During every song, I had fun watching their facial expressions and interactions with each other, whether it was time for their solo or they were singing in the background. It’s very hard to single out a favorite, they are all so good. Stephanie Bass plays Betty Jean, who is kind of the tomboy of the group, really had my favorite dialogue of the evening. Her rivalry with Cindy Lou provided a lot of laughs, and her rendition of “Lipstick on Your Collar” is easily the angriest and most heart-felt version you will likely ever see. Ali Bennett was perfectly cast as Cindy Lou, the vivacious flirt of the show. Always ready to take any opportunity offered, she was a real firecracker on stage. Her big moment comes in the second act with the medley of “Son of a Preacher Man,” “Leader of the Pack,” and “Maybe.” Natalie Peterson as Missy, the home ec marvel who made all their dresses, shines in her Secret Love section. She has a sweetness and an innocence in her performance that melts your heart. Carianne Jones as Suzy was the perfectly put-together peacemaker. Suze is in love with the kid running the lights and does a powerful “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” to end act one. Ms. Jones also deserves kudos for her performance in the second act for reasons that I will not reveal here.
Choreography by Ms. Byrd is fun and really keeps the show moving. The costuming by Stephanie Jones fits the eras of 1958 and 1968 appropriately in each act, as does the hair and makeup by Yancey Quick. The onstage band of Kevin Mathie, James Clark, Trevor Jerome and Gar Ashby are fantastic, and really catch the tone and spirit of this era.
The only complaints I had on the night I attended were with the sound and missed dialogue. The balance between singers and band was off, with the music often overpowering the singers. It may have been the fact that with four women all singing in upper registers the mixing on the vocals was off, but I missed some of the lyrics. Also missed were lines of dialogue when the actors failed to wait for applause or laughter. As an actor, I know that it’s sometimes hard to read the audience, but the cast didn’t not wait for the applause or laughter to die down before starting, but this happened after almost every song and after some of the funniest lines of dialogue. That being said, this is one wonderful production. Definitely a show not to miss.