Review: Geva Theatre’s Marvelous Wondrettes

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Geva Theatre’s Marvelous Wonderettes is a grand romp through the music of the 50’s and 60’s. Created by Roger Bean in the recent, yet grand tradition of Mama Mia, Jersey Boys, and On Your Feet, this is a juke box musical; The story is created to showcase a playlist of music. In this case, the music is not that of one artist as in those listed above, but of two rich eras of music.

When the movie Mama Mia was first released as a film (I did not see the play on Broadway, despite its 5,773 performances), I admit to being dubious about how engaging it would be. I had more experience with the traditional format where the story is developed and the songs are written to compliment and advance the plot.

Just as I need not have been worried about Mama Mia, the Marvelous Wonderettes did not disappoint. In the hands of an ingenious director (Melissa Rain Anderson) and a superb musical director (Don Kot), the musical whisks us back to a 50’s prom, when life was seemingly simpler.  A girl group – The Marvelous Wonderettes – has been hired to perform at the school’s prom, replacing a boy band that was banned from performing.

The Wondrettes. Photo by Ron Heerkens, Jr.
The Wondrettes. Photo by Ron Heerkens, Jr.

On to the stage float Audra Cramer as Missy, Rachel Logue as Cindy Lou, Christina Stroup as Betty Jean and Ally Young-Price as Suzy, in frothy prom gowns, supposedly sewn by Missy (but in fact, beautifully designed by Amanda Doherty).

The four talented actors have been part of Wonderettes casts across the U.S., and it shows. They take no time to establish their distinctive characters, from the organized, and somewhat prim Missy, to the funny and brashly likeable Betty Jean, and from the sultry Cindy Lou to the effervescent Suzy.  The stories of their lives, sprinkled with romance and repartee, evolve through dialogue, dance and songs that include such 50’s faves as “Mr. Sandman, “Lipstick on Your Collar” and “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me.”  It always amazes me when four such dynamic solo voices – for throughout the play, each woman’s voice is featured alone – can meld so fluidly into one harmonious sound, when singing together.

In act two, we advance ten years, and the four are playing their class reunion, clad in “mod,” psychedelic 60’s mini-skirts and color-coordinated go-go boots.  We learn how their lives have evolved, which opens the door to such popular 60’s tunes as “Wedding Bell Blues,” “It’s My Party,” “Leader of the Pack” and “Respect.”

Even if you are too young to have memories associated with any of the songs performed, you’ll be familiar with many of them. When the curtain closes, I’d be surprised if you don’t walk out with a broad smile, humming a tune or two. Hopefully Geva will stage one of the Wondrette sequels  in the future, so we can cruise more music of earlier eras and catch up with these four characters who have come to feel like four old friends.

The Marvelous Wondrettes can be seen at Geva Theatre Center now through December 24, 2016. Evening and matinee shows are available, and tickets may be purchased at the box office located at 75 Woodbury Boulevard in Rochester, by calling the Box Office at (585) 232-4382, and they may also be purchased  online.

Photos by Ron Heerkens, Jr.