The 'Wonderettes' sing the hitsHART show to feature '50s and '60s tunes
It only takes a minute or two for director and choreographer Mark Jones to describe the sparse plot behind “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” When it comes to the perky musical’s soundtrack, however, he could probably spend hours. Anyone who loves the great girl groups of the 1950s and ’60s could.
“I mean, these songs are just phenomenal songs,” he said, his face lit up.
While the story, which centers on a group of teenaged girl singers tasked with performing at their prom, doesn’t leave much to hang your hat on, it doesn’t matter. The Wonderettes are just a friendly conduit for the music. From “Mr. Sandman” and “Lollipop” to “Leader of the Pack” and “Heat Wave,” they belt out 27 harmonized, nostalgia-inducing tunes throughout the show. It’s an emotional goldmine for Jones, whose mother introduced him to the music at an early age. He has always loved it, even though he was born a few decades too late to have ever danced to it at his own prom. He’s actually the one who lobbied for the show to come to Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, where the Wonderettes and golden oldies will be begin a three-week run this Friday night.
“They just don’t write stuff like that any more,” Jones said, talking like the true Baby Boomer he isn’t.
Truth is, none of the show’s four stars are old enough to remember these salad days of pop music, either. But the music is so powerful and universal that everyone in the cast can’t help but understand it.
As Wonderette Tierney Cody explained, “There’s a lot to relate to, just for anyone.”
Though Cody is the baby of the group, having been born in the 1990s, she’s still happy to “relive the music,” she said. On top of that, she gets to play a role she finds extremely fun. As Cindy Lou, she’s the “popular” one, who believes she’s the prettiest and the best singer around — not to mention a shoe-in for from prom queen.
She, like all the Wonderettes, is an archetype, but Cody still sees the basic humanity beyond their poofy dresses and towering bouffant hair-dos.
“At the center, they are real people, and these characters are the same in any decade you’re in,” she said. “You know these characters, no matter what era you grew up in”
Kelli Brown Mullinix, also know as Suzy, a girl blond down to her bones, knows just what she means. Mullinix plays the “ditzy” one, she said, and she enjoys it, though she like the bond between all the characters even more. Even if the connection between her and her fellow singers is just a mild aspect of this musically charged show, she sees it as important foundation for the powerful music the piece provides.
“I think that the relationship shines through the music in the songs,” she said, adding that she loves the “innocence” of these ditties.
They are what Tabitha Judy — or Missy, the “nerdy” one — likes to think of as barbershop tunes for girls.
“I love tight harmonies,” she said. “That was one the draws of this show, that you’re able to sing all these great songs with these strong voices.”
All the women agreed this style of music is a joy, one that’s unique the era the show embodies. Even so, the stuff the songs talk about is just as relevant now as it was 50 years ago. Morgan St. Clair, who plays “tomboy” Betty Jean, explained that while most of the show is a “blast,” there are still serious and poignant moments sprinkled throughout. The show, like its soundtrack, has a lightness to it but is, in the end, talking about real life.
“Everybody can relate to having troubles with their best friend,” she said, alluding to one of the major plot points swirling around Betty Jean.
This mixture of honesty and fluffy fun might not only account for this show’s success (it was an Off Broadway hit, after all) but also the longevity of the songs it celebrates. In addition to its intoxicating harmonies, these songs offer stories that people understand now just as well as they did 50 years ago.
Because of all that and more, Jones sees no reason why these songs should ever go out of style. He’d like to believe that instead of fading away, this music will simply gain more and more followers, just like himself. He also hopes that shows like this one will introduce people a type of music it’s hard not to love.
Truly, in what other genre are things so real but still so sweet?
As Jones put it, “Even when someone stole your boyfriend, it still had a good beat.”
“The Marvelous Wonderettes” will be at HART, 250 Pigeon St., at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays May 25, 26, and June 1, 2, 8 and 9, and at 3 p.m. Sundays May 27, June 3 and 10. For tickets, call 456-6322 or visit www.harttheatre.com. The play features music direction by John R. Crawley. Alexia Grant assisted Jones in production number staging.