Marvelous musical wonder(ettes)

The Marvelous Wonderettes (Anam Cara Productions)

Calamale Community College

April 16 – 17

When, in 1958, Springfield High School’s super Senior prom, is left without entertainment, four girl group The Marvelous Wonderettes’ step in to save the day. This is pretty much the extent of the story at the heart of “The Marvelous Wonderttes”, a jukebox musical comedy with book by Roger Bean, which uses pop songs from the 1950s and 1960s as a vehicle to tell its story. It is a simple concept, easily staged and featuring four characters: Betty-Jean (Tara Carmen), Suzy (Rebecca Kenny-Sumiga), Cindy-Lou (Aimee Monement) and Missy (Josephine Stockdale), which makes it easy for amateur theatre groups to effectively execute, which Anam Cara Productions certainly does in their feel-good and full-of-fun show.

Boy bands may be bad but girl groups have their own antics and in between their set’s numbers clueless Suzy, insecure Missy, and frenemies Cindy and Betty-Jean bring much humour through their attempted sabotages and competition to be teacher’s pet and pride. (Some audience members assume roles as members of the faculty including Mr Lee, to whom Missy’s declaration of infatuation is directed). There is also much froth and bubble (literally at times), colour and excitement as, after frantic simultaneous talent performances, the audience votes for the prom queen. The theme of love reigns supreme though the songbook standards of the era that represent that group’s set-lis, with classic hits like ‘Mr Sandman’ and ‘Lollipop’ allowing opportunities for showcase of some lovely group harmonies. These are complemented by Lyunette Wockner’s cute of-the-time choreography that switches era evocation in line with a post-interval passage of time to the group getting back together at their ten-year reunion, complete with some still obvious tensions to their dynamics.

Act Two is a real delight as it outlines through its music how much the ladies’ lives have changed. And Carmen powering through many ‘60s staples is one of the show’s highlights, along with realisation of the earlier minor details that are cleverly crafted to grow into the narrative and song selection of its later sections. From an upbeat ‘It’s In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)’ and rousing ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, some clear themes of female empowerment and emancipation emerge through numbers like Lesley Gore’s ‘You Don’t Own Me’, as we learn about the highs and lows the four women have experienced as they determine to conquer whatever life throws their way, together.

With characters who remain on stage through most, if not all of the show, the Marvelous Wonderettes performers do well to bring their distinct characters to unique life. And this is certainly a group of diverse personalities. While, as is often the case in amateur productions, there are differences in vocal projection and presence, all do well, especially in ensemble numbers like the doo-wop ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ late in Act One. Other highlights include Stockdale’s almost-operatic vocal sounds, especially in an enchanting rendition of Doris Day’s soaring ‘Secret Love’ and Carmen’s playful comic presence (including occasional ad libs as part of audience involvement) as the mischievous Billy-Jean.

With promise of feature of over 30 classic ‘50s and ‘60s hits, “The Marvelous Wonderettes” certainly delivers with its eclectic mix of standards along with a handful of less familiar tunes, enthusiastically brought to entertaining life by the live band of Sean Fagan (Producer/Musical Director and keyboards), Fabian (guitar), Jerome Fitzgerald (drums) and Thomas Melton (reeds). And it is appropriate that they are showcased throughout, especially in Kenny-Sumiga’s ‘Respect’ and ‘Rescue Me’ mix before we are farewelled in what represents a wonderful conclusion to what can only be described as a charming gem of a show.  

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