By Brian D'Ambrosio
Writer-director Roger Bean has turned innocent musical nostalgia into his livelihood. He has shaped jukebox musicals out of WWII ditties and radio jingles, but his topmost achievement is The Marvelous Wonderettes, a '50s-and-'60s revue. The irresistible sound of '50s and '60s pop tunes hold a distinctive soft spot in the hearts of those who grew up listening to them; that's for certain. But the music's cross-generational charm has an even broader reach.
"I grew up listening to my parents singing the oldies," says actress Maria Miller, who plays Missy. "I love that fun music a lot, so much that I sometimes feel as if I were born in the wrong era."
Based on the successful Off-Broadway smash musical, the Missoula Community Theatre's production of The Marvelous Wonderettes delivers audiences to the land of sugary, familiar oldies. The show's outline is the chronicle of a quartet of adept young singers chosen to provide entertainment for the Springfield High School Class of 1958 senior prom.
Meet the Wonderettes, four girls (Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy and Suzy) with dreams and aspirations as large, bright and wild as their crinoline skirts. As we learn about their lives and loves, we are treated to the girls performing memorable songs and plenty of familiar hits. The Marvelous Wonderettes is a mandatory musical trip down memory lane, says director Joe Martinez.
"It's a fun, silly, feel-good show," says Martinez, who zestfully directs the two-hour-plus production. "The musical is lively, recognizable and there is a spirited four-part harmony throughout."
When the entertainment doesn't show up for the senior prom, the Wonderettes step in to save the day. In between belting out favorites, such as "Mr. Sandman," "Leader of the Pack," "Lipstick on Your Collar," and "Dream Lover," the girls trade gossip, one-liners and dreams of teenage romance.
Your toes will be tapping throughout this irresistible jukebox musical. Young or old audience members should be acquainted with at least one of the more than two dozen musical favorites. Theatergoers should be ready for musical, as well as cultural, immersion.
"There is a lot audience participation," says actress Noel Rukstad (Cindy Lou). "The audience votes for prom queen, and certain audience members are spoken to as if they were our prom classmates or teachers."
Though the bubbly performers - Missy (Maria Miller), Betty Jean (Ellen McKenzie), Cindy Lou (Noel Rukstad) and Suzy (Kendra Syrdal) - weren't around when such songs as "It's My Party," and "Stupid Cupid" were top 40 hits, their renditions are a pleasure.
"The characters are all so lovable in their own way," says Miller. "They shine through with their special personalities."
Each Wonderette is a standard classic: there's the know-it-all, highly organized type A Missy, tomboyish Betty Jean, airhead Suzy and diva and queen bee Cindy Lou - and has generic , high-school age boy trouble. There are arguments, mild drama, giggles and confessions, but they're all just stepping stones to the next number.
"The 1950s was a period and time known as a lot of fun," says Rukstad. "Girls were really girls then. There are some awesome 1950s prom dresses, pastel colors, and puffy petticoats. It was a time when butthead was a bad word and, in general, a really romantic era. It's exciting to relive that time a little bit."
Expect The Marvelous Wonderettes and their taut, four-part harmony to leave their audience smiling, and reviving memories diffused through nostalgia and pop music, with "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" and the promise of more: "See you again in 1978."
The Marvelous Wonderettes opens at the Missoula Community Theatre, 200 North Adams Street, Missoula, on January 18. The show runs January 18-20 and 23-27. Tickets are on sale now. For more information, visit www.mctinc.org or call (406) 728-7529.