The Marvelous Wonderettes, from left, consist of Missy (Julia Ullrich), Suzy (Alison MacDonald), Betty Jean (Ali Watson) and Cindy Lou (Makayla Moore). (Photo by Don Bodger)

‘Marvelous Wonderettes’ sets high bar for Chemainus Theatre season

The script is perfect for Chemainus’s small stage

The Chemainus Theatre Festival kicked off the 2020 season with a bang on Valentine’s Day with the debut of The Marvelous Wonderettes.

And marvelous they were, too.

This production has set a high bar for this year at the theatre, with four knockout performances and a lot of really fun music.

There are just four actors in the cast, and just four characters to anchor this jukebox musical, but in combination this show finds itself with plenty of everything. Lots of colour, enough plot to hang the music on, and lots of laughs. The script is perfect for Chemainus’s small stage with the four talented leads easily filling the theatre with personality and great vocal skills.

Julia Ullrich is Missy, Alison MacDonald is Suzy, Makayla Moore is Cindy Lou and Ali Watson is Betty Jean (or BJ). They are four friends who form a girl group to perform at their senior prom in 1958. The second act is their 10-year high school reunion, where they’ve reunited for another performance.

There’s one-upsmanship, a secret crush, cheating, and friendship all around, set with great musical numbers. In act one you’ll hear everything from ‘Mr. Sandman’ to ‘Lipstick On Your Collar’. In act two there are excellent renditions of 1960s hits such as ‘It’s In His Kiss’, ‘You Don’t Own Me’, ‘Son of a Preacher Man’ and an Aretha Franklin medley.

All four actors have equally strong voices and worked perfectly together, each taking multiple turns in the spotlight and as the backup band, so to speak. MacDonald really stood out in the second half for her great comedic timing, and Ullrich for some spot-on musical hits. Moore and Watson’s squabbling as Betty Jean and Cindy Lou, who both come to realize the other hasn’t had it so easy, provide a dose of pathos to this frothy plot. The rapport between the four women lends authenticity to the storyline.

Audiences should get ready for a little participation, but we won’t spoil the surprises here — you’ll just have to get your tickets to find out.

Also deserving of special mention is the costume and set design. Each actor has two costumes and all are distinctly period and lovely to boot.

The set is key to setting the proper mood. It perfecting captures the feel of a high school gym trying to pretend to be glamourous for prom/reunion night. I was particularly impressed by and prone to chuckle at, the half-covered basketball hoop.

Both set and costume design are the work of Jessica Oostergo, who clearly knew what she wanted this production to look like, and brought it decisively to life.

Director and choreographer Julie Tomaino has done a marvelous job of letting the skill of the cast shine.

The only real criticism of the show is that the final musical number is a bit sleepy and forgettable after the great music that has come before. It subdues the audience, which is otherwise ready to leap out of their seats. It would have been nice for the show to finish with a bit more of a bang.

The Marvelous Wonderettes is at the Chemainus Theatre until March 28. For ticket information go to chemainustheatre.ca or call 1-800-565-7738.

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