The Marvelous Wonderettes Strike a New Chord

Stages Repertory Theatre premieres a new rendition of the crowd favorite.

By Doni Wilson August 9, 2016

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It’s 1969 at Springfield High School and alumnae Cindy Lou, Missy, Betty Jean and Suzy—known as The Marvelous Wonderettes—have reunited to host a retirement party for their former English teacher.

The second the go-go boot-wearing foursome take the stage and belt “Gimme Some Lovin,” you know you're in for a good show. As graduates from the 1958 class, they are now in the thick of the late sixties in the first act, singing the era's top hits. Along with retro mini-skirts, big hairstyles and high-energy performances, The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On takes audiences on a comedic ride through the '60s and '70s.

Inspired by writer and creator Roger Bean’s mother, who was a high school song leader, the musical weaves together the lives of four friends in a signing group. Bean shared that selecting songs for the performance was quite a process. “When I begin a new show, I listen to songs over and over again to see what stories are being told and if they can be dramatic and work on stage,” he said.  

Directed by Melissa Rain Anderson, this show is a continuation of a series of productions that began as The Marvelous Wonderettes in 2009, a Christmas show called Winter Wonderettes and The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns in 2013. 

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All four actresses deliver strong performances. Rachael Logue plays Cindy Lou, who goes on to have some success singing professionally as “a one hit Wonderette.” Missy is played by Chelsea Ryan McCurdy, who brings her character's exuberant and slightly nutty enthusiasm into numbers like Bread’s “Everything I Own” and Thelma Houston's “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Christina Stroup plays Betty Jean, delivering feminist-infused songs from the seventies in the second act, including Gloria Gaynor's “I Will Survive” and a hilarious take on Helen Reddy’s “I Am Woman.”

The whole plot line is rickety and implausible (the retiring teacher hasn’t graded papers in five years—umm, okay) because it’s all in good fun. When the fabulous Holland Vavra, playing Suzy, acts like a stereotypical dumb blonde, it's funny. Remember when Dolly Parton said, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.”? Well, it takes a lot of talent to sing and act this dumb. Vavra’s physical movements are completely in sync with her character’s emotional temperature, making Suzy the most unforgettable of the four women. From her pink go-go boots to her expert use of a piñata at a key point in a song, well, what can I say? She definitely has the music in her. 

There are few shows that have such a mass appeal. That's the power of great music, and Roger Bean gets that. I don’t think there could have been a better selection, as the entire audience clapped along during certain numbers. A good time was had by all—including my hard to impress fifteen-year-old son, who loved it. An audience member near me confessed, “I really didn’t want it to end.” I couldn't agree more.

Through September 18. From $21. Stages Repertory Theatre, 3201 Allen Parkway. 713-527-0123.

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