Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The creation of Roger Bean, The Marvelous Wonderettes starts in 1958 when a female quartet has been asked to sing at their high school prom as a last minute replacement. With many comical moments and several touching encounters, Bean's script also gives us plenty of details about these women. From their romances to their dreams and jealousies, we learn all about these four high school girls in the first act. The second act is set 10 years later at their high school reunion where the group has been asked to perform again and we discover what happens to them after high school. Featuring familiar songs ranging from "Mr. Sandman" to "Son of a Preacher Man," The Marvelous Wonderettes is very effective in how it not only finds a way to present songs from two different decades, due to the decade span across the two acts, but also in portraying how these four characters change over that 10-year period as well.
Bean has created four very different but highly identifiable characters, and Hale's cast and direction are superb in bringing the lovable ladies and familiar songs to life. Cindy Lou, played by Rebecca Bryce, is the bossy group member we discover is also spending time with the boyfriend of her fellow Wonderette Betty Jean. That creates tension in the group, with Melissa VanSlyke's layered portrayal of the spirited and joking Betty Jean, showing moments of sadness and hurt beneath the fun-loving exterior. Gina Kim is a hoot as Missy, who tries to hold the group together and also has a secret crush on someone close to the group, while Jessie Jo Pauley's gum-chewing Suzy is spunky and a little clueless.
All four are talented actresses and have voices that excel on their many solo and group songs. Lincoln Wight's music direction achieves some stunning blended harmonies by the foursome on "You Don't Own Me," which is especially thrilling. Other highlights include Pauley's sumptuous take on "Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me," Kim's touching version of "Secret Love," VanSlyke's powerful "That's When the Tears Start" and a heartfelt "It's My Party," and Bryce's clear and soaring "Son of a Preacher Man."
Director-choreographer Cambrian James does exceptional work in several ways. He makes sure the foursome deliver believable characters; creates moments of physical comedy that are organic; and provides more serious scenes that resonate without being too cloying or unrealistic. James' choreography offers period perfect steps that change across the decade span of the show and highlight the individual numbers while also being aligned somewhat in the style of dances of the famous girl groups that made many of these songs famous. The creative elements are lush, colorful and perfect. James' wigs are fun, funny, and period appropriate, while Brian Daily's set design features signs on the walls and basketball court markings on the floor to easily set the scene of a high school gym that is decorated for the prom. Jeff A. Davis's lighting is full of bright, ever changing colors that play into the changing moods of the show and the songs. The result of the creative elements and talented cast is an atmosphere in which not only are there changes in the clothes, wigs, and even Missy's glasses, but all four actresses appear to have grown ten years older as well.
Hale Centre Theatre continues to produce some of the best non-professional musicals in the Valley and their The Marvelous Wonderettes is a simply joyous and joyful experience.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of The Marvelous Wonderettes runs through April 18th, 2017, with performances on Monday and Tuesday evenings at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181
Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James