In the beginning there was “The Taffetas” (1988), followed closely by “Forever Plaid” (1990), the only male entry. The last in the nostalgia-based, strictly-singing., small-cast musicals was “The Marvelous Wonderettes” (1999), which opened Wednesday evening in Warsaw’s Wagon Wheel Theatre.
Considering WW’s major success with its productions of “Plaid,” it’s only puzzling that “The Marvelous Wonderettes” has not made an appearance before this.
That said, the ladies are worth the wait.
There is no doubt that all “mini-musicals” are saddled with obviously contrived plots devised solely to facilitate the insertion of as many “golden oldies” as possible.
There is no attempt at being believable in any area — excepting the music. Here the quality of the solo voices as well as their blend is what counts. It’s what makes it worth sitting for the two hours it takes the Wonderettes to deliver about 30 songs. All are designed to take you back to a melodic youth or let the youngsters hear the tunes that helped mom and dad (or grandma and grandpa) fall in — and out — of love back in “the good old days.”
Director/choreographer Scott Michaels has his work cut out for him, creating movements for each number that are different yet similar and keeping the action moving along. As always, he delivers.
In this melodic time travel he has the talented Wonderettes — Leigh Ellen Jones as Cindy Lou, Kira Lace Hawkins as Missy, Sarah Jackson as Betty Jean and Jennifer Dow as Suzy — with which to work. And they succeed in creating definitely individual characters and turning back the clock whether the tempos from conductor/keyboardist Thomas Stirling and his outstanding “band of five” are up or down.
The storyline is tangled, beginning with the Wonderettes last-minute call to entertain at their 1958 high school prom. They reveal the prom theme, “Marvelous Dreams,” and announce voting (by one section of the audience) will determine the prom queen who will then choose her king.
There is an on-going rivalry between best friends Betty Jean and Cindy Lou and it becomes obvious that Suzy is dating the boy running the lights while Missy has a crush on Mr. Lee, the teacher who led the group to the cheerleading finals. (NOTE: Mr. Lee is chosen from the gentlemen sitting in the front row as is Mrs. MacPhearson, the English teacher who counts prom ballots.)
The second act is at the 10 year reunion. Suzy is married and expecting and both she and Betty Jean are having marital problems. Missy is still hoping for a proposal and Betty Jean and Cindy Lou are still feuding.
And that’s just for starters.
But no matter how flimsy the plot (and who expects believability?) the important part is the music and, from start to finish, it is solid.
Each of the quartet has at least one solo, proving all have solid voices, but their four-part harmony is the most remarkable. Difficult to deliver side-by-side, it is even more impressive when done from the four corners of scene designer Jacki Andersen’s nostalgically prom-in-the-gym setting.
Costume designer Stephen R. Hollenbeck finishes the official summer season with wonderfully decade-spanning costumes that recreate the colors and styles of the time. And the great wigs by Dow are the icing on the pastel ensembles.
There is no doubt many of the songs will bring back memories, good or not-so-good. “Mr. Sandman,” “Allegheny Moon,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Secret Love,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” It’s My Party,” “Son of A Preacher Man” and “Respect” are only a few of the hits from the 1950’s and ‘60’s found in the repertoire of “The Marvelous Wonderettes.”
Whether you could sing along with every tune or are just hearing them for the first time, the Wonderettes make them marvelous.
“THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES” plays through Aug. 23 in the arena theater at 2515 E. Center Street in Warsaw. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 267-8041 or visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org