TISCH MILLS, Wis. (WFRV) – Four high school girlfriends who dress up and sing put on a show of love hits for their 1958 prom and reunite 10 years later.
In 25 words, that’s the story of “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” a musical envisioned by author Roger Bean that LOVES an era when songs were catchy and often sweetly clever.
Jumping into the large pool of songs – 32 – is The Masquers, Inc. community theater of Manitowoc. Director Patrick Schamburek and choral director Erin LaFond guide the headlong thrust of the songfest.
Opening night Friday in The Forst Inn found a cast embracing all kinds of nuances in their characters. Along with loads of singing and spunky dancing, the girls have a bit of back-biting in their backstories. Stealing a boyfriend will do that. But mostly they’re friends, totally throwing themselves into a gaudy showcase.
The material is prime for acting and performing over the top. Pouring out the energy, splashy characterizations and a bundle of dance moves were Erin LaFond, Sam Gretz, Katie Jo Shimulunas and Missie Wendorf.
The setup of the group being amateurs giddy about performing allows for some wobble room in singing and being 100 percent in tune. With The Chordettes’ super-sweet harmonics of “Mr. Sandman” being the first song, the group’s capabilities are revealed right away. Mostly, the songs feel good on the ear.
The production embraces the looks of the ’50s in costumes, wigs and do-dads that would be found at a prom and a reunion.
The cast, wearing wireless headsets and singing to recorded music, moves easily while ironically hauling around prop microphone stands.
Much, much has gone into this cap to The Masquers’ 90th season. The production is elaborate and brimming with desire.
And then there is the rest of the story, a kind of walk across burning coals for the company. Talk about making things difficult, the list includes:
+ The coronavirus COVID-19.
+ The troupe’s performance space, Capitol Civic Centre, being shut for the duration.
+ A double-casting of the production.
+ A visit of COVID-19 to the cast.
+ Moving the production to a space outside of Manitowoc that’s much smaller than the troupe works in.
+ A postponement in the original dates for the show, from March to now.
Imagine the relief Friday night for a lot of people who had this show clinging and clawing in their mind for months and months. “The Marvelous Wonderettes” – a burst of fun – finally did happen. It’s a success on stage. Whew.
Five performances remain, with the two casts taking turns through May 23.
This and that:
++ The show has an interesting history. It’s a Wisconsin product. Roger Bean created the show for Milwaukee Repertory Theatre in 1999. That may explain the prominence of The Chordettes, a hit-making product of Sheboygan. “The Marvelous Wonderettes” opened off-Broadway in 2008.
++ Act II is set in 1968, and yet the music still has a ’50s/’60s pop flavor. There’s nothing of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones or the rock heavyweights of the time. A goal is to retain charm.
++ Side story: I was interviewing songwriter Ellie Greenwich before the nostalgia show titled “Leader of the Pack” (her song, which is in this show) was coming to Green Bay. She was happy. Out of the blue, she blurts, “I hate Phil Spector,” for no reason. Phil Spector was famous for creating hit music’s “wall of sound.” He was later infamous for being convicted of murder.
Creative: Book – Roger Bean; music and lyrics – multiple sources; director – Patrick Schamburek; music director – Erin LaFond; choral director – Erin LaFond; choreographer – Kevin James Sievert; set designer and decorator, stage manager, master builder, lighting design – Phillip Jindra; costume design – Danielle Frahm; hair design – Missie Wendorf; properties – Roger Bennin; make-up design – Margaret Iannitello; sound technician – Jeff LaFond; producer – Claran LaViolette
Remaining performances: Team Marvelous: 7:30 p.m. May 16 and 22 with this lineup: Cindy Lou – Sam Gretz, Missy – Erin LaFond, Betty Jean – Missie Wendorf, Suzy – Katie Jo Shimulunas. Team Wonderettes: 7:30 p.m. May 15, 21 and 2 p.m. May 23 with this lineup: Cindy Lou – Addison Fowler, Missy – Tessa Komoroski, Betty Jean – Shannon Paige, Suzy – Em Schaller. Voiceover characterizations: Damon Ryan, D.J. Lucas, Phillip Jindra.
“Mr. Sandman” – Wonderettes
“Sugar & Spice Medley (Lollipop/Sugartime)” – Wonderettes
“Allegheny Moon” – Wonderettes
“Dream Medley (All I have to Do is Dream/Dream Lover)” – Wonderettes
“Stupid Cupid” – Suzy, Wonderettes
“Lipstick on Your Collar” – Betty Jean, Wonderettes
“Lucky Lips” – Cindy Lou, Wonderettes
“Secret Love” – Missy
“Man of My Dreams Medley (Mr. Lee/Born Too Late/Teacher’s Pet)” – Missy, Wonderettes
“Goodnight and Goodbye Medley (Sincerely/Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight)” – Wonderettes
“Hold Me Thrill Me, Kiss Me” – Suzy, Wonderettes
“Heatwave” – Wonderettes
“Mr. Sandman” (Reprise) – Wonderettes
“It’s in His Kiss”/“Wedding Bell Blues” – Missy, Wonderettes
“You Don’t Own Me” – Missy, Wonderettes
“With This Ring” – Missy, Wonderettes
“I Only Want To Be With You” – Betty Jean, Wonderettes
“That’s When the Tears Start” – Betty Jean, Wonderettes
“It’s My Party” – Betty Jean, Wonderettes
“Son of a Preacher Man” – Cindy Lou, Wonderettes
“Leader of the Pack” – Cindy Lou, Wonderettes
“Maybe” – Cindy Lou, Wonderettes
“Maybe I Know” – Suzy, Wonderettes
“Needle in a Haystack” – Wonderettes
“Rescue Me” – Suzy, Wonderettes
“RESPECT” – Suzy, Wonderettes
“Thank You and Goodnight”/“Sincerely” (Reprise) – Wonderettes
THE VENUE: The Forst Inn stage is wide and narrow. The space is intimate. Seating is at small tables on two levels in a slight arc in front of the slightly raised stage. To the audience’s rear is the stage director’s space, with light and sound controls. The space is essentially a black box in theater style in the front – with additions: two chandeliers above the audience, a street lamp the seating area and the ambiance of 1920s style elements to the rear in a service area. A seating/serving area is in the middle of the building, along with a ticketing counter. The bar area out front includes the bar, table seating, more 1920s ambiance and a passage to an art gallery (rotating artists) that is now part of the offerings of The Forst Inn Arts Collective. The building dates to 1868, with assorted lives over the years. For a notable period – 1990 into the 2000s – the place was popular for productions of Little Sandwich Theatre, which Manitowoc attorney Ron Kaminski (deceased 2018) nurtured with a caring hand as artistic director/performer/do-all for a wide array of productions. The present venture is of that spirit.