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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns
Hale Centre Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Jersey Boys, Hostage and Audra McDonald with Seth Rudetsky

Melissa VanSlyke, Heidi-Liz Johnson, Rebecca Bryce,
and Gina Kim

Photo by Nick Woodward-Shaw / Hale Centre Theatre
Roger Bean has crafted close to a dozen jukebox musicals that feature plots with lovable characters and humorous and heartfelt moments set against a selection of well-known and popular songs from the past. His biggest hit is The Marvelous Wonderettes, which has had successful runs at theatres across the country as well as Off-Broadway. So, it seems only natural that he would pin a sequel to that hit show. In fact, he's now written three. Hale Centre Theatre presented the original version two years ago and are now presenting The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns, featuring three of the four actresses who starred in their 2017 production of The Marvelous Wonderettes. It's a fun and engaging nostalgic trip and a rewarding follow-up experience with these lovable ladies.

Using a similar structure to the first show, which was set in 1958 at the high school prom before fast-forwarding ten years for its second act, The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns begins at Springfield High School's graduation ceremony where our quartet of "Senior Class Song Leaders" Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy, and Suzy sing and celebrate with their classmates. The second act takes place in 1968 at Missy's wedding.

While the show is fun and completely charming and features around 30 songs, including the hits "Rock Around the Clock," "Dancing in the Street," "At the Hop," and "River Deep, Mountain High," many of the other tunes aren't quite as familiar as those in the original Wonderettes. Also, while the framework is fun in showing how these women change over the ten years, and there are incidents in the original show that are referred to in this one, the repetitive nature in relation to the first show makes it a little less original than the first Wonderettes.

Fortunately, even though the four female roles are all different stereotypical archetypes, Hale's cast create engaging, unique, and lovable characters and all four women have excellent singing voices that deliver rich and powerful vocals. Rebecca Bryce is perfectly playful and just a little bit bossy as Cindy Lou, and Heidi-Liz Johnson is energetic and spunky but also a little ditzy as Suzy. As Betty Jean, the jokester of the group, Melissa VanSlyke is a firecracker, and Gina Kim is firm, yet full of charm, as Missy, the serious girl in the quartet who also has a major crush on one of her teachers.

Director and choreographer Cambrian James ensures the show is playful but also that the few serious moments ring true, and his dance steps are varied and fun. The talented cast, under Lincoln Wright's expert music direction, deliver some beautiful and rich melodies. Just a few of the many song highlights are Johnson's charming delivery of "Rock and Roll Waltz" and a winning performance of "What a Wonderful World," plus Kim's meaningful versions of "Hooked on a Feeling" and "The Look of Love." Also, Bryce's "When You Walk in the Room" is infused with romance while VanSlyke's take on "It's Gonna Take a Miracle" has a rich, deep soulfulness. There are also plenty of group numbers, including a rousing "River Deep, Mountain High" that ends the show on a high note.

Brian Daily's set design features fun period signs and touches to indicate the high school gymnasium setting, including cut-out images to signify the ceiling tresses of the gym on the two side walls. The props from McKenna Carpenter and Monica Christiansen include fun color-coordinated mic stands and stools which tie into each girl's individual color scheme and are matched by the gorgeous costumes from Tia Hawkes. Kristen Peterson's lighting creates upbeat and brightly colored moments.

Though The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns may not be quite as fun as the first Wonderettes, it is full of romance, an abundance of humor plus moments of drama that provide some realism and seriousness. Hale Centre Theatre's production features four talented actresses who bring plenty of personality to the young women they play while also delivering exceptional vocals on the many hit songs in the show from the 1950s and '60s.

The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns, through April 16, 2019, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert AZ. Performances are Monday and Tuesday evenings. Tickets can be ordered at or by calling 480-497-1181.

Directed and Choreographed by Cambrian James
Music Director: Lincoln Wright
Set Technical Director: Brian Daily
Costumer: Tia Hawkes
Lighting Designer: Kristen Peterson
Wigs & Make-Up: Cambrian James
Props: McKenna Carpenter & Monica Christiansen
Sound Design: Gary Towne
Stage Manager: Danny Karapetian

Cindy Lou: Rebecca Bryce
Missy: Gina Kim
Betty Jean: Melissa VanSlyke
Suzy: Heidi-Liz Johnson