DECADES OF SONG: The ladies of Stage West’s performance of The Marvelous Wonderettes light up the stage in the jukebox musical featuring songs from the 50s and 60s. The production stars (left to right large picture) Melanie Mcinenly as Betty Jean, Laura Caswell as Suzy, Nancy Silverman as Missy and Melanie Piatocha as Cindy Lou and runs until August 19.
Photos courtesy of Stage West Theatre
Stage West’s The Marvelous Wonderettes stars four talented actresses, but Laura Caswell has to concentrate on her role a bit more than the others. Why? It’s her second time crooning out the jukebox hits but this time in a different role.
“The biggest challenge was not singing some of my old harmony lines (the show is in tight four part harmony) and even more trouble not doing the old choreography. It’s taken me a while to get the moves right as the old steps are still in my muscle memory,” she explained.
Running until August 19, The Marvelous Wonderettes is a quirky musical that starts in 1958 at the Springfield High School prom and finishes ten years later at their reunion. Featuring songs from the 50s and 60s, Suzy, Betty Jean, Cindy Lou and Missy, work through the trials and tribulations surrounding love.
Laura previously played Betty Jean (BJ), the joke cracking, cartwheel turning, tomboy in a 2011 production in Gananoque, Ontario. This time she plays the sweet, bubblegum chewing Suzy who is smitten with the young fella running the lights and she thinks playing the two roles has given her a chance to work deeper into her character.
“I already understood the style and humour of the entire piece along with the journey the characters needed to take. The woman who played Suzy with me at Thousand Island Playhouse, Alison MacDonald, had instilled such sweetness and joy into Suzy I knew that I wanted to replicate that as best I could,” Laura said. “It was a good reminder of how to not make her a one dimensional gum chewing giggler. I also knew that Betty Jean liked Suzy and liked to make her laugh. Knowing a little about this onstage chemistry also helped. Then came the challenge of making it my own with a whole new group of girls.”
“I sometimes try to compare these ladies to famous women characters from TV and although we are teenagers and in our twenties in this show, I can’t help but think of Golden Girls. Four strong characters whose personalities work off each other and that’s really what the show is about – their relationship,” she explained. “And the best comparison I can make is Dorothy to BJ and Rose to Suzy. Dorothy cracks jokes and makes fun of people, Rose giggles and tells stories about St. Olaf. But they are friends and get through trials and adventures together.”
Although she loved playing BJ, Laura said she’s glad director Tim French saw her as Suzy this time around.
“I think BJ is closer to who I am in real life – the goofball, the attention seeker. But in many ways I am having more fun playing Suzy as I get to play with aspects of my personality people don’t always see. I get to escape from myself a little more, as it were. Betty Jean gets to make people laugh and knows it, Suzy does but is clueless. That’s a fun game to play,” she said. “Both roles have great solo songs, but honestly it’s as fun to sing back up to the big numbers like That’s When the Tears Start and It’s My Party as it is to sing the lead.”
And Laura isn’t the only one who’s done this show before. Director Tim French worked on the same show last summer with four different girls, but really let this cast make it their own, she said.
“I obviously had some ideas of how I thought things should be played, as did Nancy, Mel P and Mel M, and he let us play, create and make the whole thing work for us. I am so grateful for that and I think our show works for that reason.”
The show fits the dinner theatre crowd well. Each actress works the songs and makes them her own. (They even manage to pull off a couple of Dusty Springfield numbers – not an easy thing to do) It is a jukebox musical and takes music from the era and weaves it into the story which isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but really works with the right crowd. The jokes are light hearted and a bit repetitive but the real gem of the production are the songs and how the actresses manage them. In the second act there’s a wonderful string of music that weaves Rescue Me with Respect, Son of a Preacher Man with Leader of the Pack.
“The audiences have loved it. Laughing at the right times, applauding at the right times. Smiling all the way through,” Laura explained. “There is some audience participation in the show and some audience members have really gotten into it, even adding their own “bits” and trying to get a laugh from the audience themselves – throwing pencils, tossing ballots. Next thing we know we’ll have the Rocky Horror Picture Show on our hands!”