OGDEN — The Marvelous Wonderettes is a jukebox musical with a book by Roger Bean that has compiled pop style music from the 50s and 60s. It uses a quartet of women and I like to say it is the female answer to the popular Forever Plaid. Directed and music directed at Terrace Plaza Playhouse by Whitney Cahoon, this production has much to delight in.
The first thing you notice when you come into the stage is how well the set is designed. Designed by Whitney and Tyler Cahoon and constructed by Nathan Fawcett, the stage has been transformed into a high school gym with a fun backdrop of a performance curtain and 4 1950’s style microphones. I really loved the color choices utilized in the set, and how the different posters that were used to advertise for prom queen, something central to the plot, connected to the use of humor in the show.
Next, the costumes by Tami Richardson were some of the best that I have seen at Terrace. The two acts of the show are separated by a decade, and it was really fun to see the difference in style between 1958 and 1968, and how well Richardson represented those two styles. Additionally, the color scheme for the costumes was quite visually pleasing. I also really loved how the colors chosen for the costumes matched the colors chosen in the set. The coordination was extensive and was kept up throughout the entire evening. Even the props, handled by Cahoon, Stacy Ronnow, and Kysa Ronnow, matched the color themes and truly added to the full visual palette.
The true star of the evening though was the musicality, all brought together with the direction of Cahoon. The cast consisted of four women, Suzy, played by Katie Swainston, Cindy Lou, played by Jessica Andrus, Betty Jean, played by Emily Richards, and Missy, played by Jenni Cooper. The four are asked to use their talents as a four-part quartet to sing for their senior prom in the first act, and in the second act for their 10-year class reunion. While doing so, we get to know a little of the back story of each, the feud between Betty Jean and Cindy Lou, the romances of Suzy and Missy, and all the while being treated to some of the best songs of the 50s and 60s. Strong 4-part harmony is very challenging and can be difficult to pull off when just standing still and fully concentrating on the notes. When you add in the fun choreography of Paige Willmore, the vocals and musicality become that much more impressive. Each of the ladies had their own moment to shine, and they each did so with different strengths.
Cooper as Missy was wonderfully comedic, and was able to maintain a perfect balance between the organized and perhaps slightly neurotic leader of the troupe, who suddenly becomes a little bit romantic as was shown in the song “Mr. Lee.” She also was able to show some powerhouse vocals in songs such as “Respect.” I really enjoyed her ability to make a small glance or tilt of a head and smile that could get the whole audience to laugh.
Swainston as Suzy was definitely the most reserved of the bunch. This matched her character, but it also came across a little in her singing. I could not completely tell if it was a sound issue, if Swainston had been a victim of some of the many colds and illnesses that have been going around, or if she just has a quieter voice than her counterparts, but her solos were quite a bit softer than the other ladies. She did bring it forward more towards the end, when she is finally able to stand up to her now husband (who is portrayed as the one running the lights), but the quietness was the only part of the show that left me a little wanting.
Richards as Betty Jean showed off great physical comedy as well as vocal prowess. In a feud with Andrus’s Cindy Lou , a recurring theme through the entirety of the show, the two played quite well off of each other, taking a trope that can get kind of tired and making it feel more fun and less cumbersome. Richards was also able to put more emotion into the role, instead of just playing the comedy, I saw a range of emotions from anger to frustration and even genuine sadness along with her strong belt.
Andrus truly excelled with vocals, which was clearly evident in the two numbers in the second act, “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Leader of the Pack.” While all of the ladies had strong voices, Andrus was able to take these numbers to even stronger levels.
While I often want to go to the theatre for thought-provoking or tear-inducing story telling, sometimes an evening of fun music and strong harmonies is just the way to start the new year right. And for that, The Marvelous Wonderettes were in fact, marvelous.