– “The Marvelous Wondrettes” – (EXTENDED!)
Sierra Madre Playhouse’s summer musical comes in two parts:
Act One – 1958. Senior prom. Girl groups. Big, frothy dreams.
Act Two – 1968. Ten year reunion. Failing marriages. Broken friendships finding a way to mend.
By Melanie Hooks
While your age and song preferences might determine which half you prefer, the packed Sunday matinee house bopped and grooved appreciatively to both. The powerhouse, four member cast has the chops for both eras – of music and womanhood.
The self-described “jukebox musical” by Roger Bean intends to be a light, cotton candy-style crowd-pleaser, and it succeeds hands-down. I left behind a sugar ant invasion and insufficient air cooling solutions to enjoy several hours of easy laughs and sweet audience interactions. Sometimes Pasadena summers demand a break in our non-stop fight against the elements.
Sierra Madre Playhouse (SMP) is a small but cool, comfortable venue, and one can’t beat the $1 concession prices anywhere. Several families had figured this out and laughed just as loudly as the patrons who did in fact attend their own proms in 1958. The real pleasure of the show, as is so often true at SMP, is participating in a community experience, so rare on the ground these days.
Set in a high school auditorium, designer Jeff Cason’s set transitions easily at the half with a few love child flowers. A. Jeffrey Schoenberg’s second-half costumes make clever use of sheer tunic layers to combo with more fitted dresses underneath, a nod to this more layered era. Props mistress Esther Fuentes adds a nice touch of adulthood with wine bottles, gratefully imbibed by the now-older women. And Jessica Mills’s spot-on wigs jump well from flip-dos to beehives.
But what really changes is the mood. Even in a loving ode such as this, late 1950s, teenaged America offers a limited range of emotions and music. The ballads tend to be about love forever or melodramatic heartbreak. Director/Choreographer Robert Marra, Music Director Sean Paxton and their girl group cast navigate the changing times by allowing the women’s voices – and worlds – to open up.
Coming so closely on the heels of doo-wop, actor-singer Kate Ponzio’s stunning, soulful range paints way outside the Marvelous Wondrette lines. Her second act, R&B set launches the reality of these times: nobody’s real life could ever have fit into the small, pre-set boxes of Beaver Cleaver America. Her character Betty Jean had bagged her man: the elusive Johnny, whose illicit hookup with her best friend Cindy Lou (Kelsey Boze) in the first half, had ended their friendship. But where is he now? And what’s up with Cindy Lou’s own total transformation from mean girl to bad girl?
Prom and Marvelous Wondrette organizer Missy can’t make sense of her true love’s never-ending friend zone. (Afton Quast plays this with delightful glee.) And the giddiest, most ‘50s voice of the quartet, Kelly Klopocinski’s Suzy, can hardly stand up under the weight of heavy pregnancy and dissatisfied housewifery. Still, she fights back with her one talent – her voice. Even when singing throwbacks to their prom standards, the former girl group singers all display soul that only life can give.
Perhaps it was my battle with the ants, but this more complicated, poignant second half sits with me still. The messy fights of life, and the bonds that friends choose to help each other through – these are my happiest memories of the afternoon.
The Marvelous Wonderettes
• Created and written by Roger Bean.
• Directed by Robert Marra.
• Musical director: Sean Paxton.
• Produced for Sierra Madre Playhouse by Estelle Campbell and Christian Lebano.
Sierra Madre Playhouse
87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre, CA 91024.
There is ample free parking behind the Playhouse.
• Extended through Sept. 17, 2017:
Fri. & Sat. at 8:00, Sun. at 2:30. Saturday matinees at 2:30 on August 12, August 19 and August 26.
• General Admission: $35. Seniors (65+): $32. Youth (to age 21): $25. Sunday at 7:00 p.m. on September 17.
• Buy tickets here.
> Check SMP online schedule for upcoming, free Monday evening play readings, starting Aug. 28 with “Allison’s House” by Susan Glaspell, Pulitzer Prize winner for 1931.
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