‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’ was enjoyable.
Four girls, one set and over thirty memorable tunes make for an entertaining night out. Invited into the senior prom of these four girls, the crowd begins a light-hearted jukebox journey through their love lives, with more than a few occasions for audience participation.
‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’ is a jukebox musical comedy written by Roger Bean that made its Off-Broadway debut in 2008. The musical tells the story of Suzy, Betty-Jean, Cindy-Lou and Missy, who are asked at short notice to perform at their senior prom, adopting the group name: The Marvelous Wonderettes. Through the songs, we learn more about their characters and love lives. In the second act, we see the Wonderettes reunite to perform at their ten-year reunion. Here we learn what has happened since we last saw the girls, including whether they are still in love.
It is apparent from the moment we see the stage that the theme of the show is love: who has it, who stole it and who is still looking for it. The song choices cleverly convey the story without the need for very much dialogue.
Lighting and sound design by Steve Maples (assisted by Rikki March and Nikki Fagan) was mostly static throughout the show, brightly illuminating the girls. However, a strobing effect was used to convey Suzy’s relationship with her boyfriend, which was a novel and extremely effective idea that made the audience feel there was another character in the show. The girls were accompanied by a five-piece band positioned in front of the stage. The energy that live music brings to a performance is always special, although there were a few mistakes and the music sometimes overpowered the singers, especially throughout the second act.
The element of audience involvement throughout the show was exciting, hilarious, and advanced the story. For example, the audience was asked to vote for who they thought deserved to be prom queen, which resulted in some crazy antics as the girls competed for the title.
The stage was very simple: an archway with rainbow curtains, a sign that read “Marvelous Dreams” and four microphones on stands. The props were pre-set on tables on each side of the stage. Though this proved to be a little messy and distracting at times, the actors did well handling the props while still singing their harmonies. Costume design by Aimee and Marion Monement was lovely and each girl kept a signature colour throughout the whole show.
The production does not require a large stage and the cozy Calamvale Performing Arts Centre was the perfect setting for the intimate performance. The blocking was fluid and organic. Director, Ashleigh Mairi-Joy Cates seemed to allow the actors free reign on the stage which sometimes resulted in moments of chaos. Though the girls bicker and fight on stage and are supposed to be unprepared for the prom performance, this proved to be too distracting in some songs, taking away from the actor who was singing at the time.
Musical Director and Producer, Sean Fagan, set the band and cast up for success in the extremely music-heavy production. The actors should be commended for learning the multitude of harmony lines in over 30 songs. At times the parts were unbalanced and the harmonies overtook the melody. However, many were so beautifully performed with such well-blended harmonies, they were reminiscent of a barbershop quartet.
Choreography by Lynette Wockner was in keeping with the era and gave a nod to backup groups from the 1950s and 1960s. When the girls managed to keep in time with one another, it was very effective and brought another layer of ambience to the show. There may have been too much choreography at times, especially for the actor who was singing lead. Perhaps it would have been better to limit the choreography to only the backup singers.
Tara Carmen’s rendition of ‘That’s When The Tears Start’ was powerful and gave the class clown of the group the opportunity to show her serious side. The audience sat up and listened to what she had to say and found a new depth in her character.
‘Secret Love’ in Act I was the first moment of calm, sung by the reserved Missy. Josephine Stockdale brought a stoic stillness to the song and her expressive face portrayed her yearning beautifully.
Cindy-Lou tries to act like the tough girl, but Aimee Monement’s performance of ‘Maybe’ allowed us to see her let her guard down. The performance was raw and emotional, and the backing vocals were performed beautifully, adding to the song’s gospel quality.
A special shout-out goes to Rebecca Kenny-Sumiga, who played the instantly likeable Suzy so well. Kenny-Sumiga’s energy and stage presence shone throughout the show. Her ability to chew gum while singing, her hula-hooping skills and her perfect New York accent were impressive, plus her phenomenal powerhouse voice. Her rendition of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ was the most remarkable moment of the night and a performance not to be missed!
Overall, ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’ offers a fun night of memorable tunes. The actors manage to develop four unique characters without much dialogue to work with. The pace of the show is fast, with songs performed back to back. Though a little rough around the edges, Anam Cara Productions have staged a sweet tribute show that leaves the audience feeling uplifted.
Photography by Anam Cara Productions