At Northlight Theatre
Written and directed by Roger Bean
Northlight cooks up a colorful winner to head their 35th season
Recipe for success:
- Take four lovely, lithesome lassies with good, strong voices.
- Garb them in fancy, full-skirted, pastel outfits – pink, orange, blue, and green (with matching shoes).
- Set them on a purple stage in a Springfield High School gym, facing microphones trimmed with red hearts.
- Bounce them off each other – mentally, musically, and physically — as they not only provide the entertainment for their 1958 high school prom, but also vie for the coveted role of Prom Queen.
- Add audience participation by involving them in the vote.
- And the result is a rousing, nostalgic, delightful evening of musical theater: the Chicago premiere of The Marvelous Wonderettes.
Meet the candidates for queen (a highly talented, all-Chicago cast): Cindy Lou Huffington (Dina DiConstanzo) a slim, lovely, vamp and Suzy Simpson (Cat Davis,) a perky uncomplicated blond in love with the lad who runs the stage lights. Missy Miller (Laura Taylor) is a lanky redhead seeking love, and Betty Jean (B.J.) Reynolds (Tempe Thomas), acts out as a feisty maverick who nearly steals the show with her obstreperous behavior as she triggers hostile responses from her buddies. Teen gossip, romance and hijinks contribute to the nostalgic angst.
The songs are terrific and enhanced by clever choreography as the four move across the stage in ever-varying configurations. They belt out 50’s and 60’s favorites including such well-known tunes as “It’s My Party,” “Mr. Sandman,” “Lollypop,” “Leader of the Pack” “You Don’t Own Me,” and “Dream Lover.” Playwright/director Roger Bean has cleverly intertwined the plot line with highly appropriate songs. As the girls – singly and in medley — sing of their current loves and losses, never have lyrics been more appropriate or more reflective of the time in which they were written.
With ever gathering suspense, Act I builds to a great climax –the announcement of the Winner. In fact, this is such a heightened moment, that at intermission, several of the audience thought the play had ended and only swift intervention by aware ushers caught them in time.
Because it was such a climax, and because nothing in the play publicity reveals more, it would be a spoiler to relate just what happens in Act II. Suffice to say that this act provides a second hour of foot stomping music, even lovelier pastel costumes, and revealed relationships.
The pop musical has been playing to a sold-out house off Broadway since September 14, 2008, and Northlight chose this hit to celebrate the company’s 35th anniversary – likening it to a season’s kick-off party that offers “joyous, ebullient reminiscences.” It was a sterling choice.
Reviewed by Beverly Friend
At Northlight Theatre, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, call 847- 673- 6300, or online at Northlight.org. tickets $39-54, young adults (25 and under) $10 (per person with valid ID), Tuesdays through Thursdays 7:30 pm., Fridays and Saturdays 8 pm., Sundays 7 pm., Wednesdays 1 pm., Saturdays and Sundays 2:30 pm. Running time is 2 hours (with intermission).
Editor’s Note: I agree with Beverly Friends‘ review of The Marvelous Wonderettes completely. I grew up with my sister (who was 3 years older than me) as she loved these bubble gum pop-rock songs. They bring back those innocent times. This is a nostalgic show and a fine way to introduce those cute tunes to a new generation.