ONSTAGE in Bedford
Directed by – Dennis Yslas
Music Director – Amy Lee Wyatt
Choreographer – Joshua Sherman
Costumer Designer – Lindsey Humphries
Set Designer – Jim Scroggins
Prop Designer – Dawn Blasingame
Sound Designer – Kevin Brazil
Lighting Designer – Michael Winters
Stage Manager – Kevin Brazil
Megan Alexander – Missy
Laura Merchant – Betty Jean
Shanna Rae – Suzy
Lindsey Kay Janacek – Cindy Lou
Photo credit James Jamison
Reviewed Performance 3/29/2015
Reviewed by Carol M. Rice, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
The proliferation of jukebox musicals has skyrocketed in the last twenty years. From “biopics” like Million Dollar Quartet, The Jersey Boys, and Beautiful: the Carole King Musical that tell a story about a famous person or group, to shows like Rock of Ages, Mama Mia!, and Movin’ Out, which attempt to mash together a bunch of existing songs to tell a story, these musicals are often hit and miss. More often than not, they are popular due to the nostalgia factor – the fact that everyone knows and loves the songs. The nostalgia factor is the main draw of The Marvelous Wonderettes, a jukebox musical in the latter category, in which popular songs from the 1950s and 60s are strung together to tell a semblance of a story.
Act I opens in 1958 at the Super Senior Prom in the Springfield High School gymnasium, where four of the most popular girls in school are providing the entertainment at their prom. They all have prom dates, but other than Suzy’s date, who is running the lights, one wonders what they other girls’ dates are doing since, if I remember right, couples dancing is kind of the point of the prom. Each of the girls is also nominated for homecoming queen, along with another unseen character named Judy, who is apparently taking care of a “medical problem” with “the girl doctor.”
Act II takes place in the same gymnasium ten years later at the Class of ’58 high school reunion. Naturally the girls are again the entertainment, and despite not having seen each other for the past ten years, they are still able to harmonize perfectly with a whole new catalog of songs.
There you have the entire plot of The Marvelous Wonderettes. The book of this musical is as thin as a piece of paper, with plot holes you could drive a whole herd of pink Thunderbirds through.
But you don’t come see this show for the plot. You come for the music.
And that’s where ONSTAGE in Bedford’s production really succeeds. This talented cast can SING! Despite having very different vocal styles, Megan Alexander, Laura Merchant, Shanna Rae, and Lindsey Kay Janacek harmonize beautifully throughout the entire show on everything from Mr. Sandman and Lollipop in the 1950s to Heatwave and It’s My Party in the 1960s.
While all of the ladies in this show had excellent voices, Alexander’s lilting soprano and Merchant’s sulty alto were the strongest. Standout songs by each of the cast members include Secret Love by Alexander, I Only Want To Be With You by Merchant, Lipstick on Your Collar by Janacek, and Rescue Me by Rae. When these ladies sang in harmony, it was tough to pick out who was singing because they blended together so well. Musical director Amy Lee Wyatt is to be commended.
The set by Jim Scroggins was perfectly appropriate for Act I at the prom. I loved the cheesy paper flowers and streamers on the walls, and the rounded “stage” with steps leading down was also a nice touch. However, almost nothing seemed to change for Act II ten years later when the same paper flowers and streamers were still up. More needed to change to convey the passage of time.
The cast used prop period microphones on stands, which were nice to help convey the period, but again, the same prom hearts were on the microphones in Act II as in Act I. The fact that the girls just sort of danced around the prop mics without any sound levels changing also felt odd.
That said, kudos must go to whoever handled the wireless mic levels during the show. I personally hate wireless mics, especially in intimate houses like ONSTAGE. It’s extremely distracting to see the mics on each cast member’s forehead (or taped to their cheeks like in some theatres), but because there was no feedback or weird jumps in the levels, as is so common in small theatres, I was eventually able to ignore the black dot just below the hairline and enjoy the music.
The show involved some “audience participation,” in which we all voted for prom queen. I do think it was rigged, though, and that votes were never counted. A better bit involved the ladies bringing up an audience member to be “Mr. Lee.” in both Acts I and II. You’ll have to see it to understand why the lady sitting next to him swatted him with her program when an important announcement was made during the second act. “Mr. Lee” was a good sport and everyone in the audience seemed to enjoy his acting debut.
While the set worked better in Act I than in Act II, costumes by Lindsey Humphries were much stronger in Act II than in Act I. For the late 1950s, the dresses were too short and didn’t have nearly enough petticoats for prom. The hemlines were also all uneven, with Alexander’s dress too long in the front, a dip on the side for Janacek’s, and Rae’s all over the place. Fortunately the 1960s costumes fared much better, with Alexander’s wildly patterned orange sheath dress and sweater as the standout. Janacek’s pink sparkley number was also a winner...until she raised her arms at all, and then her slip showed. The white go-go boots were an excellent touch, especially those (not) worn by Rae.
Dennis Yslas directed The Marvelous Wonderettes and did as good a job as he could with the wafer-thin book. My only criticism of the acting was that some of the actors seemed to be playing for laughs rather than playing it straight. The key to good comedy is not to try to be funny. Joshua Sherman’s choreography was period appropriate and creative, and it helped move the story along.
ONSTAGE in Bedford in the middle of the 30th Anniversary Season, and they have obviously worked on finding shows their devoted patronage will enjoy, as the performance I attended was completely sold out and the audience was entranced. With familiar songs sung by excellent voices, The Marvelous Wonderettes is a lovely way to spend the afternoon or evening.
As I was leaving, a group of older ladies were standing outside the theatre singing It’s My Party. Yep, the nostalgia factor. THAT’S why you do this show.
THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES
ONSTAGE in Bedford
2801 Forest Ridge Drive (Trinity Arts Theater in Bedford Boys Ranch)
Bedford, TX, 76021
Runs through April 12, 2015
Actual days (Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 3:00 pm)
Tickets are $ $14.99 for students/seniors and $19.99 for adults.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.onstageinbedford.com or call the box office at 817-354-6444.