News Column

'Wonderettes' a musical delight [Roanoke Times (Roanoke, VA)]

April 27, 2013


Shake and shimmy your way down a musical memory lane with the newest production at Mill Mountain Theatre, "The Marvelous Wonderettes."

The musical opened to a nearly sold-out theater on Wednesday, and the lighthearted show filled the stage with plenty of favorite old songs and laughs.

The show kicks off Mill Mountain Theatre's first full season since 2009. "Wonderettes" is the nonprofit's first Equity production since "Greater Tuna" in 2012, and the first on Trinkle Main Stage since Center in the Square began renovations on its Campbell Avenue building in 2011.

The first act of the play, with book by Roger Bean and music from 1950s and early 1960s girl groups and singers, features four best friends filling in as last-minute entertainment for their 1958 senior prom at Springfield High School.

The all-girl quartet, calling themselves the Marvelous Wonderettes, serenades the audience with a dreamy version of "Mr. Sandman" as the opening number. From there the songs flow smoothly between snippets of dialogue that reveal the friendships and tensions between Cindy Lou (Rebecca Russell), Betty Jean (Katie Emerson), Missy (Jessi Tidwell) and Suzy (Andrea Dotto). Most of the story is communicated through the song lyrics and the physical interaction between the four characters.

We learn that sultry Cindy Lou has been up to no good with spitfire Betty Jean's boyfriend Johnny ("Lipstick On Your Collar") and that sweet Suzy is crazy in love ("Stupid Cupid") with Richie Stevens, who is running the lights for the show. We discover shy Missy's secret crush on the music teacher through "Born Too Late" and "Teacher's Pet."

The second act is set in 1968 at the Springfield High 10-year class reunion, which also features a reunion of the Wonderettes, who have gone their separate ways in the decade since graduation.

This time the girls - now young women - have swapped the pastel crinoline skirts (that Missy made in home economics class) for vivid mini skirts (that Missy made with Butterick patterns) and knee-high white go-go boots.

They have also traded their high school problems for grown-up issues including marriage ("Wedding Bell Blues," "With This Ring"); infidelity ("It's My Party," "That's When the Tears Start"); and empowerment ("Respect").

All four actresses are outstanding vocalists who create pitch- perfect harmonies in addition to having excellent comedic timing. Emerson is hilarious as the feisty Betty Jean and Dotto shines as the love-struck Suzy.

Co-directors and choreographers Peppy Biddy and Ginger Poole create seamless movements as the Wonderettes traverse the stage and out into the theater for lively interaction with the patrons.

The fun in this nearly two-hour show is the nostalgia, which will ring especially true to those who can recall the intoxicating scent of a fresh mimeograph, and the infectious joy of the music.

With plenty of sweet humor (the few adult-oriented jokes will likely sail over the heads of the youngest theatergoers) and strong performances, "The Marvelous Wonderettes" is a fine fresh start for Mill Mountain Theatre.

"The Marvelous Wonderettes"

Where : Trinkle Main Stage, Mill Mountain Theatre, Center in the Square, Roanoke

When : 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. today; 2 p.m. Sunday; 7:30 p.m. May 1; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. May 2; 7:30 p.m. May 3; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. May 4; 2 p.m. May 5; 7:30 p.m. May 8; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. May 9; 7:30 p.m. May 10; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. May 11; 2 p.m. May 12

Cost : $27; students, $25

Contact : 342-5740;

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