Hawthorne Players recently presented a polished and entertaining production of The Marvelous Wonderettes. The Marvelous Wonderettes is a jukebox musical boiled down to the essentials. Its 26 songs are pop hits of the ’50s and ’60s. Most are well crafted and well attuned to the emotional and mental lives and maturity of the teenagers they are meant to appeal to—successfully, in most cases.
Many of the songs were done by close-harmony, doo wop girl groups. That’s appropriate, because the Wonderettes are four seniors at Springfield High. They have taken third place at the state Song Leaders competition, so when the leader of the boys from the Glee Club who were supposed to be the entertainment at the prom is suspended from school for smoking, the music teacher Mr. Lee asked the girls to sing.
The book of the musical is pretty thin. The girls and their adventures are the usual high school types. Julia Gilbert’s Cindy Lou, tall and glamorous, and Sophie Kluba’s Betty Jean, short and impulsive, are rivals. Stefanie Kluba’s Suzy, who gets an extra glow because her boyfriend is running the lights, is elected Queen of the Prom, to the chagrin of Cindy Lou, who as the prettiest girl in the class fully expected to win. Kelsey Bearman’s Missy has a crush on Mr. Lee. Ellie Taylor’s Judy Carter, another classmate, helps at the Prom, and Taylor also is the understudy for each of the four.
Act Two happens ten years later at the 1928 class’s ten year reunion. The Marvelous Wonderettes again provide the entertainment. Suzy married the lighting techy, is now pregnant, but their marriage has hit some rough spots. Missy had been dating Mr. Lee, and during the show he finally proposes. Betty Jean has been working along with her husband in the neighborhood hardware store, but their marriage is even more troubled than Suzy’s. Cindy Lou tried Hollywood but has moved back to Springfield and is in love with that boy who was suspended for smoking. She and Betty Jean reconcile.
The musical had a long off-Broadway run in 2008 and ’09. It has had multiple successful productions in regional theatres, community theatres, colleges, and high schools. I think it is the songs’ nostalgic appeal that keeps audiences coming. The plot is thin and few of the songs have the sophistication to make it into the Great American Songbook. But they do appeal to special places in the emotional lives of our younger days.
Fortunately, Ken Clark directed the Hawthorne production. His is an experienced and sure hand at creating attractive and enjoyable productions with material that may need a little help. He and Karla Curry are the music directors, and the women’s singing is very tight. Their acting is convincing, too. Clark’s set has the requisite prom decorations, including a big banner hailing the Wonderettes, and stage left a couple of lockers to remind us that we are in a gym. Jean Heckmann’s costumes, appropriately period, followed the show’s tradition of having each woman in costumes of her own color. Stefanie Kluba choreographed amusing and dynamic dances. Eric Wennlund kept the lights properly focussed on the actors. Brian Borgstede designed brief moments of sound, and Assistant Director and Stage Manager Lori Renna designed wigs.
The Marvelous Wonderettes is not a show I am eager to see again soon, but I admired the theatrical skill with which Hawthorne presented it.
Photo by Wolfe Creative Media Services