Updated: Jun 19
"Like the Female Version of Forever Plaid!"
Those of you who are old enough, think back to the mid-1950’s. Those not old enough, this was the era of chiffon, prim and proper, and no worries about recessions or political movements like
The Tea Party. Travel back to the fictitious Springfield High School prom where we meet the Wonderettes, four girls with crushes, hopes and fantasies as big as their hearts and crinoline skirts!
You’ll scream with excitement as you dance the aisles with over 30 hit songs from a decade of pop hit spins, such as “Lollipop,” “Dream Lover,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Lipstick on Your Collar,” “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” and “It’s My Party.” Then finish the evening off by moving forward 10 years, where the sock-hop group is reassembled for their ten-year class reunion.
The place? Lyceum Theater at Vanguard University. Here, the American Coast Theater Company presents a sensational jukebox musical, “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” which started May 28th and runs for five weekends through June 26th. The production, directed by actor/producer/director Susan K. Berkompas (“Othello;” “The Boys Next Door”), who founded ACTC and has served as Theatre Department Chair for 24 years at Vanguard, is presented in the Lyceum Theater on the Vanguard University campus.
So gentlemen…brush up those blue suede shoes. And ladies, put on those cinched-waisted ruffled swing dresses and petticoats, and doo-wop it over to see a one-of-a-kind comedy musical revue that brings us back to the good ole' days of proms, pouffy hair, and pin-ups.
The time is Prom Night, 1958, and that hot guy glee club, The Crooning Crabcakes, was canceled by the Principal when their lead singer was caught smoking in the locker room. His wayward behavior made way for the second-string girl group, "The Marvelous Wonderettes," to work their magic on the hot pink stage for Springfield High. But once they open their mouths, we find there's nothing second-rate at all about this show. In fact, it’s one irresistible jukebox musical!
The quartette consists of pretty, boyfriend-stealing glamour girl, Cindy Lou (Logan Cranford) whose I-wanna-be-a-star dream in life is to be the prom queen. Rivaling her for the center of attention is outspoken, tomboy-ish yet sensitive, Betty Jean, played in Reba McIntire style by Natasha Reese. Betty Jean and Cindy Lou are best frenemies, vying over a boy, and while Cindy Lou constantly preens, Betty Jean, a master of mugging, pulls pranks to puncture her ego.
The controlling, prim and proper moral leader of the group, Missy, is endowed by a bespectacled Cameron Del Rosario, whose voice gives these classics a brand new flavor, and whose earnest, comic sense is similar to that of a Molly Shannon. Missy is head of the Prom Decorations Committee, and absolutely smitten with her music teacher. Slightly ditsy cutesy-pie Suzy (Noelle Roth), sticking chewing gum to the microphone as she sticks in our hearts, is a happy-go-lucky, go-along girl. Super-best friends with Missy, Suzy is always a little giddy and a little silly, although sometimes hormonal, and finds great pleasure in everything she does. Both Missy and Suzy may be the less glamorous ones, but when their big numbers arrive, their voices prove the most powerful.
Writer Roger Bean has written into this effervescent musical a more-complex-than-you-think storyline, and developed Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy and Suzy into believable people, revealing their own personality, their own style, and their own story, all while entertaining us with one oldie but goodie after another. The songs sidestep the era’s psychedelic excesses, conveying more a wholesome ‘50s and electric ‘60s period, focusing on the spine and soul of, say, Laura Nyro’s “Wedding Bell Blues” or Doris Day’s classic “Secret Love.”
Bean is best known for writing jukebox musicals, and if you don’t know him by name, it’s a sure thing you’ve seen or heard about his other pop-hit packages for the stage, like “Route 66,” “The Andrews Brothers,” “Life Could Be a Dream,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” and “Honky Tonk Laundry.” Along with the smash off-Broadway hit "The Marvelous Wonderettes" (over 1,200 performances Off-Broadway), he has written the sequels "Wonderettes: Caps & Gowns," "Winter Wonderettes," "Wonderettes: Dream On," and the large-cast "Wonderettes: Glee Club Edition." The original Los Angeles production of "The Marvelous Wonderettes" received the 2007 LA Ovation Award for Best Musical, and continues to be an audience favorite in regional and amateur theater companies throughout the country.
While typical productions of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” uses pre-recorded music tracks, Musical Director Scott Cokely directs a four-piece rock band combo (piano, drums, lead guitar and bass) from the theater’s loft. The skilled production and design team includes Choreographer Bretlyn Lazaris Schmitt, with Director Berkompas co-choreographing, along with cast member Noelle Roth, who has created the dance steps for the show’s tap sequences. Designing ACTC’s staging are Paul Eggington (set), Lia Hansen (costumes) and Garrett Spady (lighting).
With all this doo-wopping, silly prom stuff, and pre-feminist female rivalry, it's easy to dismiss this utter charm bomb as the stage equivalent of beach reading—nothing heavy, just fresh, well-paced, beguiling characters. But then that darned poignant thing gets in the way—the ten-year reunion. We learn that the singers have seen revolutions and evolutions and the attitudes and clothes of the girls have changed. Cindy Lou, for one, has returned home chastened after a stint in Hollywood. Missy regrets her boyfriend's fear of commitment in "Wedding Bell Blues," and Betty Jean laments love in "That's When the Tears Start" and "It's My Party."
A once seemingly prissier Cindy Lou reveals her fondness for bad boys in "Leader of the Pack" and "Son of a Preacher Man," while Suzy, pregnant, expresses her frustration with her husband in a rousing medley of “Rescue Me” and “Respect.” We find that high school sweethearts marry and sometimes don't live happily ever after; and dreams of fame and fortune, more often than not, vaporize into nothing.
Yet these Wonderettes and best friends survive, as have their songs. And while we don't get to dance at their prom, we do get to vote for Prom Queen. This review votes for them all.
All performances are presented on the campus of Vanguard University, in the Lyceum Theater. Performance dates and times are May 28, June 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, and 25th at 7:30pm and May 28, 29, June 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, and 26th at 2:00pm. Performances at Rancho Mission Viejo Esencia Green are July 7, 8, 9, and 10th at 8:00pm.
Ticket prices are $30 for general admission and $20 for seniors, children, college students and groups. Tickets may be purchased at www.ACTCtickets.com or by calling the Theatre Department box office at 714-668-6619-6424.
Arts & Entertainment Reviewer
The Show Report