‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’ at Montgomery Playhouse by Amanda Gunther


Go Chipmunks! It’s 1958 and it’s the night of the Super Senior Prom at Springfield High School! The Crooning Crabcakes have been banned from performing at the dance because their lead singer got suspended from school for being a butthead. So it’s up to four fabulous friends, in their puffy crinoline and lace prom dresses to provide the entertainment for the evening.

Directed by Roxanne Fournier Stone and Stacey Fearheiley, The Montgomery Playhouse presents a charming musical that will inspire that fun-loving high school feeling of the fifties for audiences of all ages.

(l to r) At The Senior Prom of 1958- The Marvelous Wonderettes: Suzy (Melanie Kurstin), Missy (Christine Pash), Cindy Lou (Katie Mays Reedy), and Betty Jean (Amanda Spellman). Photo by Steve Deming.

Hats off to Costume Designer Donna Meester who transports the audience back to the Springfiled High School gymnasium circa 1958 via her fabulous glitter gowns of yesteryore. Four fantastic frocks come to luminous life in shades of orange-peach, baby pink, sky blue, and spring green, mounted over with lace and under with crinoline, and topped with glitter. The dazzling dolls really sparkle with their terrific threads. Meester waves her magic wand and transforms these dated era appropriate gowns into their matching shorter counter parts for the ten-year reunion in act two, keeping the color scheme the same, only now the much shorter dresses are covered in sequins from their cinched waist belts on upward and have matching huge hoop earrings to accessorize. Meester makes marvelous magic with these costume choices, the best element of the entire production.

The show ends up being a promising venture of intrigue that ultimately becomes a disappointment by the time you reach Act II. Starting off with this wonderful energy and bright spirits abound the four girls are giddy and eager, really involving their bodies in their dances, smiling and trying to put on a fantastic show in the first half. They create perfectly balanced harmonies, sing loudly and clearly and even get the audience engaged for a brief period of time. But after intermission it felt as if they decided to phone in their performances. With lack-luster half smiles, little to no effort in their dancing, and intonation issues as well as vocal projection issues; the second act was a major let down.

Musical Director Jil Marie Luyk had a division of focus in her song work with the girls. The first half provided stunning sweet numbers that were catchy and energetic. The second half of the show – even providing more upbeat musical style and numbers in the song selections – was deflated as if the intermission had sucked the energy and the wind right out of the performers.

Suzy (Melanie Kurstin) has a fun energy in the first act, doowoping along as backup vocals in numbers like “Allegheny Moon.” Her performance in the second act is the most disappointing as she is given two huge numbers, “Rescue Me” and “Respect” and both come out sounding mousy and small rather than the burgeoning explosion of sound that the audience recognizes from these two tunes.

The leader of the four, Cindy Lou (Katie Mays Reedy) provides us with that sweet girl image with an even sweeter voice to match. Reedy has a sassy fun number in the first act, “Lucky Lips” that gives her a chance to defy the stereotype of goody-two shoes for just a moment in time. And Reedy is the only one to bring emotion to the second half with her. While her vocal sound goes from perfect pitch and clarity to slightly flat and strained, she does pack a wallop of sorrow into “Leader of the Pack” and “Maybe.”

The meekly mannered and shy young thing is found in Missy (Christine Pash). Wearing the color-coordinated horn-rimmed glasses, she is mostly quiet, tries to keep the peace among her quarreling friends and then shocks the audience with her operatic voice. She is best heard giving her siren’s belt when singing back-up or in the group numbers; her sound easily distinguishable above the others. And she is an all-eyes actor, providing a great deal of her characters details and emotions through her very expressive peepers.

Larger than life Betty Jean (Amanda Spellman) boasts a boisterous personality that borders on obnoxious. Creating the comic relief in the show, constantly bucking heads against Cindy Lou, and desperately driving to showcase her diva personality, Spellman creates a corny but comical character that helps drive through the performance. Her shenanigans of constantly trying to steal the spotlight from Reedy in the first half are hilarious and make for an entertaining act I. And while her singing voice becomes more of an angry shouting voice in “Lipstick On Your Collar” it imports a great sense of her hellacious fury over her cheating beau.

Running Time: 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.

(l to r) At their 10 Year Class reunion in 1968- The Marvelous Wonderettes: Missy (Christine Pash), Cindy Lou (Katie Mays Reedy), Suzy (Melanie Kurstin), and Betty Jean (Amanda Spellman). Photo by Steve Deming.

The Marvelous Wonderettes plays through October 21, 2012 at The Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 258-6394, or purchase them online.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.

4 COMMENTS

  1. I don’t know when you went there, but i found the second act to have at least as much energy as the first. After reading your poor review of this show I felt a need to state that after criticizing the height of one of the actresses the rest of your review only seems shallow, especially since Suzy’s character, from all I can tell, is supposed to seem mousy. When I saw this show she came into the songs, where her character is dealing with emotional struggle, sounding timid which makes sense. And finished them with an air of pride and dignity.

  2. I believe this review is an accurate call on the show. The costumes were fabulous but they seem to just fall apart in the second act- and as someone who has directed the show and played as Suzy in a production some time ago- Suzy’s character is anything but mousy. I’m not sure if I saw it the same day as the reviewer or not but I agree that they fell apart in the second act. I think in the fall people forget that stepping outside for that quick breather- especially in this area- the weather and chill quickly flattens their vocal intonation that they worked so hard to warm-up during warmups. So remember- people of the area- if you’re going outside at intermission- you need at least five minutes before going back on stage- to rewarm your voice to intonation.

  3. I had a wonderful time with my family seeing this show last weekend and I enjoyed much more than just the costumes. the first act was full of energy and spark – you really believed that these 4 girls were 17-18 years old and were at their senior prom. the 2nd act had the perfect transition into 10 years later where they are no longer girls but 28 year old women who are going through very difficult things in life. Do you really expect characters who believe they are being cheated on or who have their husband leave them have the same energy and gusto as they did as care free teens? The shift in energy between the acts showed character growth and the ladies did a fantastic job doing that. as for you assuming the girls went outside during intermission, you are mistaken. I was outside the entire time during intermission and never saw one of them come out in the cold air taking a breather. I have seen several shows at the arts barn and the theatre is on the 2nd floor- there is no way outside from where they are. This seems to be a very vocally demanding show so if some numbers fell a bit short of what you heard in the 1st act, I’m sure it was due to the ladies being vocally tired and from giving 110% the entire time.

    To the cast and production team of the marvelous wonderettes, CONGRATS on a fantastic show. I had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed spending my evening at the arts barn watching you all sparkle and shine on that stage. Please take Miss Gunther’s review as an opinion and nothing more. Keep doing what you are doing and enjoy the rest of your run!

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