American Coast Theater Company’s ‘Wonderettes’ will rock, ’50s and ’60s style
By Eric Marchese
If you love early classic rock, or you love musical theater, or you’re a fan of Roger Bean, you won’t want to miss American Coast Theater Company’s new production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes.”
Bean is best known for writing jukebox musicals, and if you don’t know him by name, it’s a sure thing you’ve seen or heard about shows like “Route 66,” “The Andrews Brothers,” “Life Could Be a Dream,” “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” and “Honky Tonk Laundry.”
“The Marvelous Wonderettes,” one of Bean’s earliest works, uses more than 30 pop songs from the 1950s and 1960s as a vehicle for its story about a girl-group quartet. Hits include “Dream Lover,” “Lollipop,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Leader of the Pack,” “It’s My Party,” “Mr. Sandman,” “Respect,” “It’s in His Kiss” and “Wedding Bell Blues.”
The show originated in 1998 at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, which asked Bean to write a new musical suitable to the Stackner Cabaret, its intimate black box space. He obliged with a charming musical that revolves around four high school songleaders in 1958 who form a close-harmony girl group – The Wonderettes – who are called upon as last-minute replacements to perform at the senior prom.
In stepping up to the plate, so to speak, they prove to themselves that they’re able to surmount personal issues while providing their classmates a tremendous amount of entertainment.
In the show’s second act, the Wonderettes take to the stage once again for their 10-year high school reunion. It’s now 1968 and things have changed dramatically for Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy and Suzy, who have all grown into mature young women.
“Wonderettes” premiered at MRT in 1999 and was reprised two years later. It became bicoastal when staged in Los Angeles in 2006 and Off-Broadway in 2008. The show has been so popular with audiences that it spawned a sequel, “Winter Wonderettes.”
ACTC’s staging of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” is directed by Susan K. Berkompas, the company’s founder and producing artistic director, with a skilled production and design team including Scott Cokely as musical director.
In recalling the first time she saw the show, director Berkompas said, “I just remember smiling through the entire show, and not just tiny smiles – ear-to-ear smiling and laughing out loud. This is the epitome of watching the pure essence of joy.”
Berkompas selected “Wonderettes” for that very reason. She said that after having endured the pandemic for more than two years, “our audiences need to experience this little gem.”
In casting the show, Berkompas said she wanted “a diverse group of ladies who could all find the truth in delivering a story within each song – and they all had to find their own hidden ridiculousness at times.” She said the characters, at least in the first act, “are often all-consumed with teenage angst.”
“Of course,” she said, her ladies also “all had to be superstar performers.”
She found that star quality in Natasha Reese (Betty Jean), Logan Cranford (Cindy Lou), Cameron Del Rosario (Missy) and Noelle Roth (Suzy). Berkompas characterizes the voices of all four as “great,” adding that “all are really wonderful performers, and the show is going to be a ton of fun.”
While typical productions of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” use pre-recorded music tracks, Berkompas instructed musical director Scott Cokely to create and lead a four-piece rock band. That combo (piano, drums, lead guitar and bass) will perform the score from the theater’s loft.
The production is choreographed by Bretlyn Lazaris Schmitt. Berkompas herself is co-choreographing, and cast member Roth is creating the dance steps for the show’s tap sequences. Designing ACTC’s staging are Paul Eggington (set), Lia Hansen (costumes) and Garrett Spady (lighting).
Berkompas wants audiences “to walk away singing these songs.” Even more, she wants them to reflect upon how dramatically lives change from the time you’re in high school to being in your late twenties.
“My aim is for our audiences to reminisce about how introspective life was at age 18 – and how everyone is given that big dose of reality once they hit the real world. My, how our perspective changes even ten years later.”
But more importantly, Berkompas asserts that events of the past 26 months have made this the perfect time for the show.
“People after COVID want to listen to a live band and amazing classic songs from a ’50s girl group and amazing performers doing these songs. I’m so happy ACTC is coming out of the pandemic fog with this show.”
Eric Marchese has written about numerous subjects over more than 38 years as a freelance and staff journalist for a wide variety of publications, but is best known as a critic, feature writer and news reporter covering theater and the arts throughout Orange County and beyond.
‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’
Location: Vanguard Lyceum Theatre, 55 Fair Drive, Costa Mesa
Run dates/curtain times: May 28-June 26. 7:30 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $30 general; $20 seniors, college students, children and groups
Suitability: Ages six and older
Information: 714-619-6424, americancoasttheater.com