By ALAN SMASON, Theatre Critic, WYES-TV (“Steppin’ Out“)
The Jefferson Performing Arts Society brought out an oldie, but a goodie this past week when it opened the Roger Bean standby The Marvelous Wonderettes, a four-woman mashup of late 1950s and early 1960s pop classics.
Directed and choreographed by Jonathan Drury, this cast has some amazing vocal harmonizing and a clever book by Bean that advances the storyline of a talented quartet of students, who return in Act Two on their tenth year anniversary.
The cast stars Marie Becnel as Betty Jean, Emily Heck as Suzy, Brittany Luberda as Missy and Mandi Mueller as Cindy Lou, together known as “The Marvelous Wonderettes.”
From the opening number of “Mr. Sandman” to their renditions of “Allegheny Moon” and “Born Too Late,” the quartet excels in bringing out superb melodies with four-part harmony. Along the way, the storyline develops as to crushes and boyfriends shared and snared by members of the group. Neil Sedaka’s “Stupid Cupid” and “Lipstick on Your Collar” are songs that tell the tale of some of their loves gone wrong.
Also on stage, nestled in the rear are the supporting musicians of River Rouen (guitar), Sam Dingle (bass), Jon Mannino (reeds), Dan Eitmann (drums) and Kyle Aucoin and Tammy Mansfield (keyboards). The level of musicianship equals the fabulous harmonies coming from the four cast members.
When the ladies return to the stage for Act II on the reunion, more current girl group music like Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave” and Betty Everett’s “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s in His Kiss)” are among the first tunes sung. The storyline advances with solos by some members with backup singing by the others in songs like Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” and “It’s My Party” as well as Dusty Springfield’s “I Only Want to Be With You.”
When it’s all finalized, the show brings home exciting closers like Fontella Bass’ “Rescue Me” and Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect.”
With a sparse, but practical set design by Kristin Blatchford and well executed costumes by Emily Billington, The Marvelous Wonderettes is a fun show to do nothing more than relax and enjoy. Full disclosure is there is some audience participation. Lighting design by Scott Sauber and sound design by Theo Fogelman is also well done.
The Marvelous Wonderettes continues its run through Sun., March 25 at the Westwego Performing Arts Theater, 177 Sala Avenue, Westwego. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and 2:00 for Sunday matinees. For tickets call 504-885-2000 or click here.