Nancy Sasso Janis
Dreamcatcher Three Questions: “Are you in love?” “Is he someone we know?” “Is he here tonight?”
Meriden, CT - ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes,’ a long running off-Broadway hit which is currently running at the Kirk Theatre, sounded like it would be a standard jukebox musical with girl group harmonies on classic hits from the 50’s like “Mr. Sandman,” and “Lollipop.” What brought it up another notch for me was moving the second act into the 60s, bringing the four girls to their ten year reunion in classic sixties garb, and covering songs like “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Respect.” Roger Bean, the creator of the Wonderettes, has also written two sequels to this piece, ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns’ and the holiday celebration ‘The Winter Wonderettes.’
Castle Craig Players will present the original fun musical May 5 - May 14 at the Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse in Meriden. Under the kind direction of Castle Craig Players Board of Directors member Ian Galligan, this musical truly sings with nostalgia while also playing up the comedic elements and the surprisingly memorable story of these four young women. What could have been a completely frothy piece instead makes us care about four girls, played to perfection by the community theatre actresses assembled by Mr. Galligan.
‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’ was written and created by Roger Bean with musical arrangements by Brian William Baker. The orchestrations by Michael Barth are handled by a small backstage band and the tight vocal arrangements by Mr. Bean and Mr. Baker are left up to the four talented singers in the cast. The first act is indeed set at the 1958 Springfield High School prom where we meet the four Wonderettes providing the entertainment for the dance. We get to follow their lives and loves, hopes and dreams into the second half when they come back together ten years later to perform at their reunion. For much of the opening night audience it was a colorful trip down memory lane and they loved every minute of it.
Mark Ceppetelli makes his CCP debut as the music director; he served as backstage conductor and keyboard player and could be seen on a video screen at the back of the house. Matt Belliveau played guitar, and percussion is covered by Benjamin Paden and Maurice Thomas. The voice of the high school principal was provided by Mayor Kevin Scarpati. Bets Malone, who played Suzy in the original off-Broadway cast, provided the fabulous and plentiful choreography that brought us back to the two eras, with additional choreography by dance captain Chelsea Dacey (Suzy.)
The four ladies in the cast brought to life these four distinct characters so well that the audience did not need to depend upon their signature color to keep them straight. Jessica Engster (Sally Bowles in CCP’s ‘Cabaret’) played the role of the feisty Betty Jean for the second time and nailed every comic touch. The adorable Jennifer Del Sole, a special ed teacher in Southington, is perfectly cast in the role of Cindy Lou; her CCP credits include Fraulein Kost in ‘Cabaret,’ Kate Monster in ‘Avenue Q,’ Sally in ‘Charlie Brown,’ and Minnie Faye in ‘Hello, Dolly’ and I have reviewed them all.
Chelsea Dacey is the ditsy Suzy Simpson and brings out the comedy in her role. This graduate of the American Musical and Dramatic Academy also appeared as Lulu in ‘Cabaret.’ Emma Czaplinski, an English teacher at Ellington Middle School, appears in her ninth show with CCP as the slightly geeky yet endearing Missy Miller. Her CCP credits that I have seen include Texas in ‘Cabaret,’ Ermengarde in ‘Hello, Dolly,’ and Christmas Eve in ‘Avenue Q.’
The two costumes for each of the four women were so different that they were designed by different people. The fifties ensembles were done by the director, Mary Dacey and Kathy Zadrozny and for act two the mod outfits were designed by Daniel Schmidt. Always perfectly coordinated, Missy’s clothes and accessories were all orange accented with period eyeglasses, Betty Jean’s were shades of green, Cindy Lou’s went from blush to hot pink and Suzy was done up in blue. Kudos to the wig designer Joel Silvestro on what must be called hair perfection maintained by costumer Mary Dacey.
Mr. Galligan gets the credit for the set design that did not overwhelm this relatively small stage but definitely fit the two periods. Authentic looking high school gym banners line the walls for both acts, but the stage was quietly transformed to the next decade during the intermission. It was nicely lit by English teacher by day Dusty Rader. Congratulations to the uncredited props coordinator on some fine work. In the program are bios of the five Queen of your Dreams contestants with their high school credits, along with a small ballot for members of the audience to use during the first act. An audience member is called upon to play the role of high school teacher Mr. Lee with very funny results.
On opening night I sat at a table with very nice folks that included Jenney Rivard (‘The Curse of the Hopeless Diamond.’) The director sat at a nearby table, as did the CCP frequent flyer Wesley Tack, who didn’t have a part in this show only because there were no roles for men. ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’ runs at the Almira F. Stephan Memorial Playhouse May 5 - 14 with a special performance on Thursday, May 11 at 7:30pm. Because it is presented cabaret style with table seating, tickets are very limited. Patrons are allowed to bring in their own food and beverages and most cart in quite a spread. Call ahead for tickets or get them online at www.CastleCraig.org since some performances are nearly sold out.
Nancy Sasso Janis is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and continues to contribute theatre news to local Patch.com sites. Check out her new Facebook page Nancy Sasso Janis: Theatre Reviewer and follow her on Twitter @nancysjanis417