Musicals are making a comeback. Think Jersey Boys (Four Seasons) or Mamma Mia! (ABBA), and you get the idea. These contemporary music-centered productions are popping up across this country’s theatrical and entertainment landscape because while people WANT to hear again favorite eras of music, they also want that music to be part of a larger well-told story that reminds them that broken hearts can mend and dreams can come true.
Telling such a story is what writer Roger Bean did when he created The Marvelous Wonderettes, a quick-moving musical now playing at 6th Street Playhouse, located in the Railroad Square district of downtown Santa Rosa. With a cast of four impressive performers, including Rohnert Park’s Katie Veale, this play showcases the simple high school prom and high school reunion dreams of the juke-box years.
Then or now who doesn’t wish for happiness in love and friendship?
With Act One set in 1958 and Act Two in 1968, the repertoire of songs, such as Dream Lover, You Don’t Own Me, Wedding Bell Blues, and Respect, capture a less-complex time in American society. The social and political changes of the 1960’s had not yet reached Springfield High School where gum-chewing girls in pastel prom dresses set their varsity-song-leading sights upon becoming Prom Queen.
The sentimental lyrics and catchy, harmonious melodies of the play’s Top Ten pop tunes do not undermine the complexity of emotions teenagers entering into early adulthood experience. Betrayal, finding one’s voice and rejection are not always best expressed in dialogue. This is where the music enters stage right.
For example, when Cindy Lou (played by Ashley Rose McKenna) belts out Leader of the Pack she makes it clear that the death of a boy her parents forbid her to date has quite possibly scarred her for the rest of her life.
Or when Missy (Katie Veale) questions the intentions of the man she loves – her former high school teacher – while singing Its In His Kiss, the audience feels her uncertainty about his ability to honorably reciprocate her love.
Off stage, Veale who enjoyed an award-winning theatrical career in Sacramento before moving to Rohnert Park two years ago, explained that growing up with parents who played songs like Lollipop and Stupid Cupid, made this a production she wanted to be part of. Besides the challenge of singing a four-part harmony of music that she loved, the script itself enticed her.
The Marvelous Wonderettes, her Sonoma County debut, has long been a show on her theater bucket list because “the script is straightforward yet also hilarious and at times very poignant.”
That’s the point of any good story, isn’t it? That it be able to traverse a range of emotions we all can relate to. And to do so with well-loved music that moves the plot along is all the better.
Written in 1999, the show, inspired by Bean’s mother (a former high school varsity song leader) was a long-running Off-Broadway hit. It won the Los Angeles Ovation Award for Best Musical in 2007. Bean’s other credits include The Andrew Brothers, Route 66 and Honky Tonk Laundry.
The characters - Cindy Lou, Missy, Suzy (Julianne Lorenzen) and Betty Jean (Shari Hopkinson) - all flourish under the guidance of Artist Director Craig A. Miller, Musical Director Janis Wilson, and Choreographer Alise Girard. Coupled with the six-piece band that doesn’t miss a beat, the technical oversight of Vincent Mothersbaugh, and the lighting talent of April George, this production delivers on its fast-paced promise to entertain.
As Veale said when asked, “This show has something for everyone. And no matter when you went to high school these timeless songs are sure to keep your toes tapping!” And, your heart hoping.
The show runs through May 13. Tickets are $15-$35. For more information, call 707-523-4185 or visit www.6thstreetplayhouse.com.