As the lights went up for The Marvelous Wonderettes at Shawnee Theatre in Bloomfield, Jack Terrell the theatre board’s president welcomed the audience to “the 58th season of the longest running summer theatre in Indiana and he promised a season with a little something for everyone.”
The summer’s artistic director is Bri Lindsey a local woman who grew up performing at Shawnee and says she’s “ecstatic to return to return to one of my favorite places.”
The Marvelous Wonderettes is a 50s style “girl group” that the show follows from their high school prom appearance in the first act to a reunion ten years later in the second. Each of the women has a story to tell and fans of those oldie close harmony hits get a very satisfying dose of the music
The scenic designer for the show, David Wade has done a terrific job of evoking those old high school gym proms. Crepe paper streamers arch to the center meeting at a basketball net. Boys and Girls locker rooms are at the sides. And the high school art department has been busy creating the posters for the celebration.
Mary Huff played Cindy Lou, the tempermental strawberry blond on the left. Huff is no stranger to the show. She played Cindy last year in Virginia. Next was Elizabeth Lambert, the feisty trickster Betty Jean. Lambert is an actor with a wide range. She’s played Aunt Eller in Oklahoma! Betsy Baer sang the role of the much put upon Missy. Baer is a Saint Mary of the Woods grad. Regional theatre fans may remember her from the Crossroads Theatre in Terre Haute. Over on the right was Aubrey Seader, the peace maker of the group. Bloomington fans may remember her from the 30 Day Mourning Period at the Bloomington Playwrights Project and playing Squirrelle for Cardinal for Kids.
In the song filled first act we learn that the Marvelous Wonderettes were a last minute edition to the prom. The lead singer for the boys got caught smoking and was expelled. The girls are quite proud of the opportunity. They can’t wait to show us the small trophy that they won for a third place finish in a regional contest. The songs are filled with harmony and solo sections. Betty Jean may be Cindy’s best friend but she’s always trying to disrupt her. Betty Jean plays, the harmonica, dangles a cardboard moon and blows soap bubbles as the always on key Cindy tries to keep her composure.
No high school prom would be complete without a king and queen. Each of the Wonderettes was in the running and had a few seconds to do a talent demonstration. Missy did some high note coloratura while Betty Jean was soaking a baton in gasoline and Suzy was furiously chewing up some bubble gum. I’m sorry that time was called and we didn’t get see the flaming baton nor the bubbles. There were ballots in the show’s program and the audience checked off their choices. The first act ends as the usually quiet Suzy was crowned the exuberant winner much to the dismay of Cindy.
Act two of The Marvelous Wonderettes at Shawnee showed the quartet as the featured guests at their tenth high school reunion. Costume designer Anneliese Garner has the four in colorful matching Marie Quant style dresses. The most obvious change in the group is that Suzy is quite pregnant. As the songs progress each of the women seems to have had a hard time with men. Those 50s songs focusing on teenage love were not kind to women.
Playwright Roger Bean has put together engaging little triptychs from the songs. Suzy’s is her account of the short life of her husband with “the Son of a Preacher Man,” “Leader of the Pack” and a final lament. Betty Jean worries about her missing husband. Missy is still waiting for a ring from a man she’s been dating for five years. The pregnant Suzy isn’t sure of the love of her husband and father to be.
I’m happy to say that things do end more or less happily, but I’m keeping quiet about the details. Thursday’s opening night audience gave the show a Bloomfield standing ovation and then gathered for snacks, conversation and a chance to chat with one another and the cast.
Shawnee’s The Marvelous Wonderettes plays through Sunday afternoon June 18th. You can find this review and an interview about the rest of the season at WFIU.ORG/arts
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker
The Marvelous Wonderettes
a 50s "girl group" of high school singers at graduation and then ten years later created by Roger Bean. director Bri Lindsey, vocal direction Bretteney Beverly, scenic design David Wade, costume design Anneliese Garner
616 E. Furnace, Rd,, Bloomfield, IN 47424
June 15-18, 2017