Crusin' back to the 50's with the Marvelous Wonderettes at Ivoryton Playhouse

 By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

The year is 1958. At Springfield High School’s Super Senior Prom the “bad boy”
singing group has been cancelled for smoking. The spotlight and microphones have been handed over to a girl group who call themselves The Marvelous Wonderettes. They are introduced and immediately burst into song. And so the show begins on a high note.

Playing at the Ivoryton Playhouse until October 18, this show will make you smile from the first song - “Mr. Sandman” to the last, “Thank You and Goodnight.” It’s a feel good but not saccharin story (written by Roger Bean) that is a plethora of fun, melodic, and memorable music.

There is the conflict of “best friends” rivalry, the stealing of boyfriends, the jealousies, the typical raging hormone tales of teenage high school angst and first loves. But within that framework, the four girls who make up the Marvelous Wonderettes - Betty Jean (Paige Neal), Cindy Lou (Melissa Robinette), Missy (Daniel Erin Rhodes) and Suzy (Alanna Wilson) are loveable, sweet, and funny and can sing, sing, sing!

Cully Long’s set has transformed the entire theater into the Springfield High gym for the prom. The four old-fashioned microphones are center stage throughout, and the girls, in their fluffy prom dresses deliver songs made famous by Connie Francis, The Chantels, Cher, Leslie Gore, the Fifth Dimension, Aretha Franklin, and even Doris Day! No matter that many of the songs in the first act were written years after 1958 - they are timeless, and the urge to sing along throughout was almost urgent! One woman behind us could not help ‘lolly-lollying’ along with “Lollipop.”

The four women who play the parts of the Wonderettes are all Actors Equity performers, and are such incredible actors that they create the illusion that these teenagers have been singing together since infancy. They hold their luscious voices back a bit in the first act to emulate the nervousness and amateur status of first-time performers. A song like “Sincerely” for instance, is a perfectly white-bread, wide-eyed selection for the giggly

When gum-chewing Suzy wins a coveted sash and tiara in a competition, she sings “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me” with sweet innocence and bold passion - setting the tempo for the second act where the songs represent less innocence, and are more reflective of real feelings. While still being hummable and fun, the voices are now bigger, bolder, more mature and moving.

Highlights of both acts include “It’s My Party” and “Lipstick On Your Collar” by Betty Jean; “Maybe” and “Leader of the Pack” by Cindy Lou; and “Respect” sung by Misty. Collectively the fun includes “Mr. Lee”, “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Stupid Cupid”, “You Don’t Own Me”, and “It’s In His Kiss” (the Shoop Shoop song).

Julia Bowers’ costumes are colorful and appropriate for each Wonderette, and oh, those wigs by Joel Silvestro! We haven’t seen that many flips in years!

Direction and musical direction, by John Sebastian DeNicola, stays very close to the original arrangements and tempos - making all the music comfortably familiar. A few technical glitches on the first night, such as some missed spotlight cues, and a holdup of the start of the second act due to - as announced - “a zipper malfunction” can be easily forgiven because of the good-naturedness of the entire production.

There is a bit of audience participation to enhance the feeling of being in a real gym at a real prom, but nothing to cringe about. Unless you’ve been seated in the very first row, you’ve got no worries.

Summing up, if you like the harmonious blend of lovely female voices, fun and familiar 50’s and 60’s songs, and a light-hearted approach to those years, then lindy on over to the Ivoryton Playhouse and see The Marvelous Wonderettes - even if you were “Born Too Late” to have lived during that simpler time when coke meant Coca-Cola and smoking referred to cigarettes!

Playing through October 18, performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 p. m. with evening performances on Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p. m, and Friday and Saturday at 8 p. m. Tickets are $40 for adults, $35 for seniors, $20 for students, and $15 for children. Call the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318, or online at Group rates are only available through the box office. The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, Conn.

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