The Peterborough Theatre Guild opens its summer season by bringing audiences to Springfield USA circa 1958. With the theatre decorated in crêpe paper decorations, you’re invited to prom night at Springfield High to watch a performance by the school’s award-winning song leaders The Marvelous Wonderettes.
The Marvelous Wonderettes is a delightful musical revue featuring the songs of some of the biggest female performers of the ’50s and ’60s. First-time director Margaret Pieper brings a light-hearted night of music and comedy to the Peterborough stage, featuring four charming performers with show-stopping voices. It’s everything that you want in a summer theatre production.
Developed by Milwaukee-based playwright Roger Bean in 1999, The Marvelous Wonderettes had successful runs in Milwaukee and Los Angeles before making its Off Broadway debut in 2008. Despite being slightly under the radar in regards to most musicals, The Marvelous Wonderettes managed to gain its own cult following of devotees and has had continuous life in theatres throughout North America. It was even developed — albeit unsuccessfully — into a sequel titled Winter Wonderettes in 2003.
When an unfortunate string of events prevents the boys’ glee club from performing at the Springfield High School prom, the school’s award-winning song leader squad, the Marvelous Wonderettes, are brought in as their replacements. Made up of boy-crazy Suzy (Natalie Dorsett), serious “square peg” Missy (Avery Cantello), sassy and bitchy Cindy-Lou (Elizabeth Moody), and the fun-loving and goofy Betty Jean (Tonya Bosch), The Wonderettes perform a series of musical numbers as they gossip, flirt, fight, make up, break up, and celebrate the bonds of friendship and romance through song.
All the characters from the songs of the era are there in spirit: Judy and Johnny, Billy Ray the preacher’s son, the leader of the pack, Mr. Lee, and more. They all play their own role in the world of The Marvelous Wonderettes.
And that’s just in the first act. In act two, its 1968 and The Marvelous Wonderettes have reunited for their 10-year class reunion. Life has changed, the drama gets more intense, and the music gets even better. I can’t tell you more or I’d be telling you too much — but the show just gets better and better with each minute.
Although there’s a string of storylines and strong characters in The Marvelous Wonderettes, the show is more of a musical revue than a traditional stage play.
The audience walks into an interactive concert featuring pop music from a 15-year period focusing on a broad range of female artists from the era, such as The Dixie Cups, Doris Day, Connie Francis, The Chrodettes, Lesley Gore, The Shangri-Las, Dusty Springfield, Laura Nyro, Pattie Page, Aretha Franklin, Jackie DeShannon, Martha and the Vandellas, and many more.
The true star of the show is the music, and the performers — singing as a group and given chances to shine in individual performances — contribute their strengths as both singers and actresses.
Natalie Dorsett, who not only plays flirty and fun Suzy but is also the show’s producer, has the uncanny ability to bring comedy and pathos to the stage in equal portions. She somehow has the ability to make you both laugh and cry at the same time.
However, her real strength is her powerful voice that brings down the house multiple times during the night. Her solos on “Stupid Cupid”, “Maybe I Know” and “Rescue Me” are phenomenal, showing off her tremendous vocal ability.
Tonya Bosch gets the biggest laughs of the evening as mischievous goofball Betty Jean. Betty Jean (or B.J. as she calls herself) is to The Wonderettes what Alvin is to the Chipmunks.
As the spunky and light-hearted troublemaker of the group, Bosch gives a fun comical performance highlighted by her on-stage rivalry with Elizabeth Moody’s character Cindy Lou. Bosch takes centre stage with “Lipstick On Your Collar”, “I Only Want to Be With You”, and “It’s My Party”.
Elizabeth Moody is the real superhero of this show. When a performer dropped just weeks before opening, Liz stepped up and learned the role of Cindy Lou in just under two weeks — despite already being involved in The Theatre on King’s The X-Files serial production. The role of Cindy Lou is not a small part, and she had to learn the songs, the choreography, the lines, and the harmonies with the other girls at a neck-break pace.
Liz not only managed to do this, but also tap into the character and create one of the stand-out personalities in the show. Sassy, vain, and a little bit of a bad girl, Cindy Lou has some of the most memorable moments of the show including an emotional medley of Shangri-Las songs and a soulful rendition of “Son of a Preacher Man”. It’s mind blowing that Liz was able to pull this off and a testament to how brilliant of a performer she is.
When it comes to vocal talent, it’s difficult for me to not gush over Avery Cantello. As talented as she is pretty, the girl is a musical powerhouse who’s still relatively unknown in the community. Playing the square-yet-pretty Missy, Avery has a big voice and gives some of the most sensitive vocal performances of the night, with the highlight being her rendition of “Secret Love” in the first act. Other show stopping numbers include “Wedding Bell Blues” and “Teacher’s Pet”.
I’ve said many times that Avery is going to be a big deal one day and this show is no exception to me believing this. The Marvelous Wonderettes is a chance for Peterborough audiences to see Avery on stage before she goes on to much bigger things. She’s going to make you melt.
A shout-out also goes to the night’s musicians: Tim Moody on guitar, Ron Kervin on drums, and Dustin Bowers on piano. These three back up the girls throughout the entire show like permanent set pieces.
Praise also goes out to the beautiful retro costumes by Shelly Moody and the creative crêpe paper decoration and stage setting by Chris Dorsett, who drops you right into a high school gymnasium on prom night.
Finally, it should be noted that this show is highly interactive and, if you’re sitting in the first two rows of the show, you should be ready for anything to happen — because anything can. But don’t worry. It’ll be delightful.
The Marvelous Wondrettes is the de facto feel-good show of the summer. Filled with music, humour, nostalgia, drama, and characters that you’re going to fall in love with, you can’t help leaving the theatre with a song in your heart. Simply put, my face is still hurting from smiling so much throughout this show.
The Marvelous Wonderettes runs from July 17th to 25th at the Peterborough Theatre Guild. Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students, and can be ordered by calling the Peterborough Theatre Guild box office at 705-745-4211 or online at www.theatreguild.org.