THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES
Written & Created by Roger Bean
Musical Arrangements by Brian Walker Baker
Orchestrations by Michael Borth
Vocal Arrangements by Roger Bean & Brian Walker Baker
Plaza Theatre Company
Director – Jay Lewis
Music Director—Melissa Johnson
Choreography – David Midkiff, Eden Barrus
Scenic Designer—Wendy Rene Searcy
Lighting Designer—Cameron Barrus
Sound Designer – G. Aaron Siler
Costume Designer – Emily Warwick
Cindy Lou—Caitlan Leblo
Betty Jean--Kelly Nickell
Reviewed Performance: 6/30/2018
Reviewed by Genevieve Croft , Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Words could never begin to express how impressed I was on Saturday with my day trip to the new Plaza Theatre Company at Dudley Hall performance space. I know that they have been open in their new location since February, but, this was the first time that I have had the pleasure of seeing a show there. Not only was I impressed with the space in general, but, I was very pleased to see the intimate theatre-in-the-round space had not changed from its previous location. These days it seems that theatre-in-the-round performance spaces are few and far between.
Flashback to 1958, and the Springfield High School Senior Dance needs a fill-in for their entertainment. The selected group is the “Marvelous Wonderettes,” an homage to the all girl singing groups of the 1950’s and 60’s, This light-hearted comedy follows four girls who are competing to see who will be crowned prom queen at the Senior Prom. Favorite juke-box songs include “Mister Sandman,” “Dream Lover,” and “Leader of the Pack.” With one hit song after another, the Marvelous Wonderettes takes audiences on a musical journey with some of the best known, and memorable songs of the 50’s and 60’s. A time when the sock hop was popular, and kids were hanging out at the local burger joint.
Director Jay Lewis brought together a small ensemble cast which worked well together, and collaborated with a crew who clearly took their jobs seriously and knit together scenery, lighting and costumes that enhanced the story being told by these lively and enthusiastic characters. His overall vision and concept was very impressive. The actresses were so fully charged with energy, it really was an upbeat and fun afternoon at the theater. From the moment the show began, members of the audience were bopping along with the music, and some even singing along. Not only were the familiar songs from the 1950’s and 60’s a fun trip down memory lane, but the staging and overall conceptualization were pleasant and visually pleasing. As I have to come to expect with Mr. Lewis, his overall vision for the production was carefully thought out and executed to match the story and characters of the play. Lewis certainly delivers in the role of director in this production.
Set Designer Wendy Rene Searcy successfully transformed the theatre-in-the-round stage at Dudley Hall into the quintessential high school gym in 1958 and 1968. In a story with one location, I was very impressed with the bright use of colors, and the simplicity of the location on stage. I was impressed with Searcy’s attention to detail in each location, from the boys and girls locker room entrances on stage to the list of Springfield High’s basketball championships and the school’s Chipmunk mascot on the gym floor and the walls- It’s the little details like that really pull me into the world of the story. I was absolutely impressed with the overall transformation of the performance space. That is one of the best things staging a production in a theatre-in-the-round space. Designers and directors are truly able to take the entire audience into the world of the play. I was absolutely awe-struck by the rotating stage. It never took away from the progression of the story, or the characters. It is apparent to me that a lot of time, care, and attention to detail was incorporated from the scenic designer.
Lighting was designed by Cameron Barrus. Barrus did a fantastic job plotting lighting that was appropriate for each scene and mood. It was lively, and aesthetically pleasing. As a frequent audience member, it continually amazes me how something as simple as a color can delineate and represent the entire mood and emotion of a scene. I felt that it was a very powerful use of visual imagery. Through the performance, Barrus’ cuing to enhance each scene was spot on. I especially enjoyed how the lighting complimented the scenic design, giving the audience the impression of the mood of the scene.
Emily Warwick designed costumes that were not only appropriate to the late 50’s and 60’s, but had a fine attention to detail. I am no stranger to the costume designs of Mrs. Warwick. I have seen her extraordinary skills in many productions. Not only do I aspire to be like her on stage (read on for my opinion of her on stage performance) but, I also strive for her talents in the medium of costume design, For each performance of The Marvelous Wonderettes (at the 1958 Senior Prom and the 1968 Ten-Year Reunion) they each had a unique and eye-catching costume, that was unified by colors for each character throughout the story. I absolutely love little details like that. Not only did the colors complement each character, but, audiences were able to correlate colors to characters in both 1958 and 1968. When audiences are able to see and interpret this on stage, then, the designer has certainly delivered in their area of creativity. I loved the 1950’s style prom dresses, and the extreme flip to the mod 1960’s go-go dresses with appropriately matching go-go boots. The costumes were fantastic, and were an excellent depiction of clothing from the decade of flower power and peace and love.
Devan Wenger was incredibly believable in the role of overly peppy and sometimes dim-witted Suzy. Through facial expressions and body language, Wenger convincingly portrayed the young ingénue (with her steady high school boyfriend Richie, who ran the lights in absentia during the prom and the reunion-communicating via light cues from the booth). Ms. Wenger’s enthusiasm and honesty on stage was a very true depiction of young girls of the time period. She never faltered in her delivery, and all interactions with other cast members were believable and spot on. Ms. Wenger had an incredible stage presence and a lovely, honest sense of humor and interaction with her fellow actresses.
Caitlan Leblo was phenomenal in the role of Cindy Lou, the defacto leader of the “Marvelous Wonderettes.” With a powerful vocal presence, and an impeccable sense of comic timing, Ms. Leblo certainly carried herself with grace and talent throughout Saturday’s matinee performance. With fantastic facial expressions, and a wonderful on-stage chemistry with Ms. Wenger (in the role of Suzy Simpson). Ms. Leblo provided some light-hearted comedic moments, and some touching moments displaying the power of friendship, and the bond between four women throughout a ten year period. Ms. Leblo had a fantastic on-stage chemistry with Betty Jean (played marvelously by Kelly Nickell). There were appropriate moments of laughter, tenderness and quick-witted banter on stage that made each moment on stage memorable and enjoyable to watch. It is apparent that each actress in the small ensemble brought their own unique talent and presence to the stage.
Emily Warwick was remarkable in the role of Missy. Ms. Warwick certainly has a multitude of talents, Costume Designer and Actress!) Through facial expressions, dialogue delivery, and an incredible vocal range, Ms. Warwick was (by far) the most likeable on stage. Ms. Warwick really seemed to have fun with this role. I really enjoyed her character’s journey from young high school student with a crush on Mr. Lee in 1958 (played wonderfully by a surprised gentlemen audience member sitting near me, and was he certainly surprised and grinning from ear to ear when he escorted on stage by the ladies and integrated to became a part of the show!) to ‘Mrs. Lee’ marrying her high school crush at the ten year reunion in 1968. I absolutely love audience participation and integration into the show. It makes the production a lot more intimate and brings the audience closer to the world of the play, and the journey of each character.
This production of The Marvelous Wonderettes is definitely worth seeing. The attention to detail evident in all aspects of this production makes for a satisfying experience. From the moment the music begins, and those familiar songs of the 1950’s and 1960’s appear one after another, you will be fascinated and compelled to sing-along. Not only is it an excellently designed and honest depiction of the 50’s and 60’s, but also, it is an excellent way to keep these classic songs of the 1950’s and 60’s fresh for a new audience. The Marvelous Wonderettes is appropriate for all ages- and will be a treat for anyone wishing to be entertained at the theatre. I encourage you to venture down to Cleburne, Texas and to visit the new space occupied by Plaza Theatre Company at Dudley Hall. I guarantee you it will do exactly what the theatre sets out to do- entertain, and will take you to another time and place. This production of The Marvelous Wonderettes is marvelous, wonderful and is appropriate for young audiences and audiences that are young-at-heart. Venture down to Cleburne and see this fantastic show, before it becomes a juke-box memory.
THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES
Plaza Theatre Company at Dudley Hall
305 S. Anglin St.
Cleburne, TX 76031
Plays through July 28th.
Thursday-Friday at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm
Tickets are $15.00 and $14.00 for seniors 65+, Students (high school/college) are $14.00, and children (12 and under) are $13.00.
For information and to purchase tickets, visit www.plaza-theatre.com or call their box office at 817-202-0600.