While Betty Jean (Sarah Jackson, R) sings ‘It’s My Party,’ the other three Marvelous Wonderettes (L to R) Cindy Lou (Leigh Ellen Jones), Suzy (Jennifer Dow) and Missy (Kira Lace Hawkins) sing backup. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
While Betty Jean (Sarah Jackson, R) sings ‘It’s My Party,’ the other three Marvelous Wonderettes (L to R) Cindy Lou (Leigh Ellen Jones), Suzy (Jennifer Dow) and Missy (Kira Lace Hawkins) sing backup. Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
There’s enough confection in Wagon Wheel Theatre’s production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” to rot your teeth but it’s so well made that not only will you not care about how sweet it is, you’ll want second helpings.
If the four ladies of “Marvelous” went head to head against the four guys of last year’s production of “Forever Plaid,” the women would win hands down. For those who might have unfortunately not see “Plaid,” it also was a revue with a thin plot stuffed with a lot of music from a certain era.
“Wonderettes” really lives up to its title of being “Marvelous” with its 28 songs, audience interaction and amazing performances by Sarah Jackson, Leigh Ellen Jones, Jennifer Dow and Kira Lace Hawkins.
Act I takes place at senior prom in 1958. The stage is decorated like a gym fancied up for the big night. There’s basketball hoops on two sides, and a scoreboard showing the score of 19 to 58. Streamers hang from the center of the stage to the backboards. Off to the side is a table of snacks and punch – one can only guess if it’s been spiked or not. The microphones on the stage are decorated with pink hearts.
The Crooning Crabcakes were supposed to be the night’s entertainment, but after lead singer Billy Ray was caught smoking, the all-boys group was disinvited and The Marvelous Wonderettes were asked to sing.
In the all-girl group are jokester Betty Jean (Jackson), scandalous Cindy Lou (Jones), ditzy Suzy (Dow) and uptight Missy (Hawkins). There are no other actors who take the stage or sing with these four divine women, but the audience really becomes a fifth player. One “Mr. Lee” in particular won’t forget opening night Wednesday.
Many of the songs in the musical are tunes most people will know. Right off there’s “Mr. Sandman,” a song that still pops up in movies and television shows today. Long after the show was over Wednesday night, the song was still shifting through my head.
A few other include “Lollipop,” “Stupid Cupid,” “It’s My Party,” “Leader of the Pack” and so many more. Even one of my own favorites that you can find on one of my CDs in my car – “You Don’t Own Me” – made the list.
And a cool thing about the songs is that they are used very strategically. The song “It’s My Party” in Act II mentions a Johnny and a Judy – who also happen to be people the actresses on stage mentioned in Act I. A character named Billy Ray gets mentioned in “Son of a Preacher Man” in Act II after being referenced in Act I. No song goes to waste.
After intermission, Act II takes place 10 years later, in 1968. For the high school reunion, the audience gets to find out what happened to the foursome. Unfortunately, like real life, not all of their dreams came true like the girls hoped.
By the time the show is over, however, you’ll have nothing but R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the four leads.
I’ve watched Dow on the Wagon Wheel stage for more than seven years now and she is always entertaining. I vividly remember her from past shows like “South Pacific” because she’s such a standout. I consider her the Lucille Ball of the Theatre because she always nails comedy, which she does again in “Wonderettes.” If you want an actress to play ditzy, pregnant, nervous or just really out there – and you want it done well – Dow is your girl.
Hawkins has only been at the WWT for the past four years, but she’s quickly grown into a favorite because of her strength on stage both in acting and singing. She gets a solo on the song “Secret Love” and when she belts it out, she brings the house down.
In the past she’s played roles like an eccentric hairdresser in “Legally Blonde,” and in “Wonderettes” she’s an uptight don’t-rock-the-boat teen, but either way Hawkins submerges perfectly into whatever character she’s cast in.
Of course, all four ladies in “Wonderettes” have marvelous singing voices.
Jackson and Jones haven’t been on the WWT stage since last season, but their return is well worth the wait. Their voices are as strong as any other actress’s this season and they’ll pull you close with their singing.
Their characters, Betty Jean and Cindy Lou respectively, are best friends. Granted Jackson and Jones are great friends in reality, but they also have a magical chemistry on stage. Whether their characters are being silly with each other, fighting or making up, it really feels genuine.
What else can I say about this production? It’s fun, funny, heartwarming, charming, delightful – and a whole dreamy night of sugary party fun.
My rating of the show (out of four): 4+.
“The Marvelous Wonderettes” runs through Aug. 23 at the Wagon Wheel. Tickets range from $15 to $34. Discounts are available for college students and on designated performances for seniors.
For more information, visit www.wagonwheeltheatre.org or call the box office at 574-267-8041.