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Hit parade harmony
The Marvelous Wonderettes delivers a tour of classic pop tunes
By Michael Summers
Fort Wayne Reader
Things are all good to go at the 1958 Springfield High senior prom. The glittery tassels are hung and the pastel crinoline is in full effect. There’s just one little problem — the scheduled entertainment can’t make it. The lead singer of the Crooning Crab Cakes was caught smoking on campus and banned from the dance. But all is not lost. At the 11th hour, the four women who make up The Marvelous Wonderettes take the stage, bringing with them a virtual jukebox full of classic tunes, fantastic voices, and just enough interpersonal drama to ensure the only consistent harmony will be musical.
Director and choreographer Leslie Beauchamp explains that The Marvelous Wonderettes — which begins its run at the Fort Wayne Civic Theater on Saturday, September 19 — is what’s called a “faux” musical. “It’s not structured like a regular musical,” she says. “There’s not much ‘scene’ work. It’s more like a revue. In this case, the Marvelous Wonderettes are telling their story through the songs while they’re performing at their prom.”
Over the course of two acts, the four singers go through around 30 songs. In the first act, it’s all the 50s — “Mr Sandman,” “Dream Lover” “Stupid Cupid,” “Mr Lee” (also the name of the Springfield High music teacher, not coincidentally).
In the second act, we’re back in the Springfield High gym, the Wonderettes are back on stage, except now it’s 1968 and we’re at the 10-year reunion. The more turbulent aspects of the 60s aren’t in much evidence at the reunion, but the tone has changed a bit. Many of the songs pack more of a punch — “Respect,” “You Don’t Own Me” — and, as the singers have grown up, reflect somewhat more adult concerns as the women take stock and — in some cases — stand up for themselves. In the first act, they were singing about “Mr. Sandman”; the second act, they’re singing about the son of a preacher man.
Of course, adult concerns, taking stock of one’s life, character growth… in a play like The Marvelous Wonderettes, these all take a backseat to the songs and the performances. The four singers do pretty much everything, and finding the right combination of actresses is as much of a challenge as learning the music and the dance steps. As Beauchamp tells it, The Marvelous Wonderettes requires chemistry on a number of different levels. “We were looking for blend musically, but we were also looking for people who could convey a personality type very quickly, who could really get that personality ‘out there’,” she said. “We were looking for different looks, different vocal qualities, so everything didn’t start sounding the same. Just a ‘uniqueness’ to each of the Wonderettes.” Beauchamp adds that the audition process was tough; the wealth of talent that came out made for a difficult decision.
Each of the Wonderettes not only has to blend as part of a group, but they also have to stand out on their own. All of the women — the unassuming Missy (Renee Gonzales); the somewhat dizzy Suzy (Kelly Maloney); the tomboy Betty Jean (Clare Ramel); and prom queen contender Cindy Lou (Nancy Button) — take their own individual turns in the spotlight.
As far as conflict goes, perhaps the biggest “drama” (relatively speaking) amongst the Wonderettes belongs to Betty Jean and Cindy Lou. The two alpha girls are constantly competing for the spotlight and the attentions of “Johnny” (of course he’s named Johnny). “Betty Jean is a tomboy. She’s sort of the class clown,” says Clare Ramel. “She really doesn’t like Cindy Lou because she’s trying to steal my man.”
Ramel gets the spotlight for “Lipstick On Your Collar,” then gets to fume as Button (as Cindy Lou) follows that up with Ruth Brown’s “Lucky Lips.” “If I had to pick a favorite part of the show, those two songs are probably it,” Ramel says. “It’s been a ton of work learning all this music, but it’s been a lot of fun. There’s just so much joy throughout the entire show.”
Beauchamp adds: “When you’re listening to music you’re familiar with, you think ‘this is easy’ because you know it. You can hum the melody, that kind of thing. But the vast amount of music (the Wonderettes) had to learn, and then put movement with it… I think that’s the most difficult aspect of this show. But if so, the cast masked it well.”
Beauchamp asks if she can have a moment to brag about her cast. Since we unfortunately didn’t have the time to talk to Nancy Button, Kelly Maloney or Renee Gonzales this time around, well let Beauchamp have the floor. “They’re fabulous and an A+ joy to work with.”
Fort Wayne Civic Theater presents The Marvelous Wonderettes
Arts United Center
303 East Main Street
Saturdays, September 19 and 26 at 8:00PM
Sundays, September 20 and 27 at 2:00 PM
Friday September 25 at 8:00 PM
Tickets: $29/adults; $24/ seniors (any performance); $17/age 23 and under
Box Office: (260) 424.5220
or online: fwcivic.org