Since The Marvelous Wonderettes’ made its first full-length big-stage Southern California appearance at the Laguna Playhouse in 2008, there’s scarcely a mid or large-sized Southland theater that hasn’t jumped at the chance to present this off-Broadway megahit to its local audience of theatergoers, and with reason. Roger Bean’s wonderfully marvelous look back at the pop music of the 1950s and ‘60s as sung by a quartet of high school girls at their 1958 prom and their 1968 class reunion is the very definition of a crowd-pleaser. Following runs at Musical Theatre West, the Norris Theatre, and Cabrillo Music Theatre, the Wonderettes have now arrived in La Mirada, once again directed by their writer-creator, and if last night’s audience reaction was any indication, McCoy Rigby Entertainment has a smash hit on its hands. Performing with a live band, these Marvelous Wonderettes are sure to captivate audiences from teens to grandfolks, and everyone in between.


Creator-writer-director Bean’s concept is a simple one, to let the charming, quirky foursome sing a whole bunch of nostalgic hits, with some between-song patter revealing tidbits about their private lives and loves. Betty Jean (Beth Malone) is the feisty tomboy whose rivalry with class beauty Cindy Lou (Leslie Spencer) sets off sparks aplenty (and a catfight or two). Missy (Misty Cotton) is the geeky, bespectacled gal with a crush on her “Secret Love,” Springfield High faculty member Mr. Lee (Unsuspecting Audience Member). Completing the quartet is gum-chewing, squeaky-voiced Suzy (Lowe Taylor), whose unseen boyfriend Richie is up in the light booth.

From the girls’ signature opening number (“Mr. Sandman”) with their signature poses (see above photos) to their signature closer (“Thank You And Goodnight”) and its encore (“Sincerely”), the songs and the laughs just keep on coming. Example: When an errand sends Betty Jean offstage, Cindy Lou takes advantage of her friend/rival’s absence to grab the mike and launch into B.J.’s song “Allegheny Moon,” causing Betty Jean to do everything possible to upstage the upstart.

We soon get to know what makes each Wonderette tick. Not surprisingly, Cindy Lou’s “talent” in the 30-second Simultaneous Talent Competition segment of the Prom Queen competition is Posing. Betty Jean is such a tomboy, you almost expect she’ll be dating Judy and not Johnny by the second act. Missy is the awkward, stage-shy one who can’t stop shaking throughout her first solo. Suzy is the ever-excited giggler, group peacekeeper, and inveterate gum chewer. (Never mind that she nearly chokes on it. When a helpful pat on the back sends her gum on a trajectory straight to the gym floor, she blithely picks it up and reinserts it into her ever ready mouth.)

If Act One’s ‘50s hits sound sweet but a tad dated, Act Two’s ‘60s smashes hold up remarkably well. “Heat Wave,” “It’s in His Kiss,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “You Don’t Own Me,” “I Only Want to Be With You,” “It’s My Party,” “Son of a Preacher Man,” “Leader of the Pack,” “Rescue Me,” and “Respect.” There’s not a dud among them!

Bean’s book cleverly borrows several of its offstage characters’ names from the show’s ‘50s and ‘60s song hits. Town bad boy Billy Ray Patton (suspended from school for smoking!) is the “Billy Ray was a preacher’s son” of “Son Of A Preacher Man.” Betty Jean’s boyfriend Johnny is the Johnny of “It’s My Party” (“Nobody knows where my Johnny has gone / Judy left the same time / Why was he holding her hand / When he’s supposed to be mine?”) and the evening’s absent prom queen nominee just happens to be named Judy Carter. Missy’s faculty crush is named “Mr. Lee,” the title of one of The Marvelous Wonderettes’ catchiest songs, with first name Bill (so that Missy can later sing “Marry me, Bill” in “Wedding Day Blues.”)

Those who caught The Marvelous Wonderettes in its two-year run at the 99-seat El Portal Forum Theatre will notice the added bunch of fresh new bits not in that smaller-scale production, most notably that 30-second talent competition which has (in addition to Cindy Lou’s posing) Missy singing her best note over and over again, Suzy twirling a Lemon Twist around her ankle while blowing giant gum bubbles, and Betty Jean hurrying to light up her fire baton before the buzzer sounds—all at the same time!

Then there’s Janet Miller’s justly award-winning choreography, which features different steps and arm movements for each song (as was de rigueur for any ‘50/’60s girl group).

If ever there was a must-see Marvelous Wonderettes foursome, the talented quartet onstage at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts is just that group of four. The La Mirada production is the very first in which all four Wonderettes are veterans of the 500+ performance off-Broadway run. It offers Taylor, the first of only two triple-threats to play all four gals, her very first opportunity to open a production as Suzy, a role she was born to play. It gives audiences a chance to see Malone and Cotton, the best Betty Jean and Missy ever, together on stage. And finally, it allows the La Mirada crowd to see Biola grad Spencer in a role which she makes bewitchingly her own.

Taylor is an absolute delight as bubble-gum chewing, bubble-gum voiced Suzy, and it’s a thrill to see the local favorite get this starring role from the get-go. The inimitable Malone gives Betty Jean the body of a ballerina and the macho gait of a linebacker in a performance that is uniquely, marvelously her own. A fabulous Cotton takes Miller’s choreography filters it through Missy’s own brand of geeky to make it positively inimitable. Spencer is the very embodiment of ‘50s glamour in a stunning performance that positively shouts “Va Va Voom!” Add to that the fact that both individually and in four-part harmony, the stellar quartet dazzle with some of the best pipes American musical theater has to offer—and you’ve got a couldn’t-be-better cast.

La Mirada’s Wonderettes are accompanied by a terrific live five-piece band under the baton of keyboardist Brian Baker, featuring Jack Majdecki on guitar, Daniel Thomas on keys 2, David Lofti on drums, and Jennifer Hall on saxophone and woodwinds. Musical arrangements are by Brian William Baker, orchestrations by Michael Borth, and vocal arrangements by Bean and Baker.

Bobby Pearce’s costume designs debuted at the Laguna Playhouse before traveling to New York, and they are a colorful bouquet of ‘50s/’60s inspired prom wear. Michael Carnahan’s beautifully detailed gym set is an enlarged version of the one he designed for Laguna and off-Broadway. Lighting designer extraordinaire Jeremy Pivnick has been with the Wonderettes ever since the El Portal, and his multihued design varies vividly from song to song. Josh Bessom creates a first-rate sound design. Kaitlin McCoy merits snaps for hair, wig, and makeup design. The ever reliable Vernon Willet is production stage manager, assisted by Gina Farina. David Cruise is technical director and Buck Mason production manager.

The 1,251-seat La Mirada Theatre provides The Marvelous Wonderettes with an ideal venue for this positively sensational production. Audiences from teens to their parents to their parents’ parents are sure to have a rocking, rollicking, romantic good time with the wonderfully marvelous Marvelous Wonderettes.

La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
–Steven Stanley
June 7, 2011
Photos: Michael Lamont

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