In Greenwood Community Theatre’s opening production for 2020, music of the 1950s and ‘60s helps tell the story of four girls who are singing at their high school prom. They have big voices and big dreams.
“The Marvelous Wonderettes” is an off-Broadway musical comedy, written and created by Roger Bean, featuring more than 30 songs. The music just might take a few audience members down memory lane.
Tunes such as “Mr. Sandman”, “Allegheny Moon” and “Son of a Preacher Man”, among others, do more than just set the scenes for the play. The music also helps move the story line along.
Guest director for this GCT show is Wendi Wimmer, theater and media arts teacher at Greenwood High School, with stage management and choreography by Victoria Jackson. Musical direction is by Gina Jolly and Rodney Cleveland.
“In the first act, the principal characters are 18,” Wimmer explains. “They’ve been invited to provide entertainment for the prom in 1958. The second act is set in 1968, at a 10-year reunion. They’ve been invited back to provide entertainment.
“Enjoy 33 songs, by some of the best female groups of the ‘50s and ‘60s,” Wimmer said. “I want to emphasize 33 songs, sung in four-part harmony. When it’s a small cast, there’s no hiding anything and it’s a huge, huge feat. It’s a very large undertaking. When the show starts, the five performers in this never leave the stage. They are not ever in resting mode. It’s largely two hours of singing and dancing.”
For the adventurous, there will be some seats actually on stage for this production, Wimmer said.
“It’s a prom, set in a gym and we are trying to include the audience,” Wimmer explained.
Wimmer said the music is upbeat and fun and in the genre of rhythm and blues known as doo-wop.
“Younger generations might not be as familiar with it,” Wimmer said. “There are also some torch songs in there. For many, this might be music that they won’t pull from their iTunes playlist, but it’s fun.”
For Stormie Claxton, 26, of Waterloo, this marks her first live theater performance and her first GCT performance as a teacher in “The Marvelous Wonderettes” — Ms. McPherson.
“She is a teacher of everything, a jack-of-all-trades,” Claxton said. “She’s in charge of the prom. And she’s a little saucy in the second act.”
Claxton said she is the only one in the cast who has a non-singing role, but she’s working props and dancing and taking pictures with a Polaroid.
Anna Lyle Lethco, 33, a veteran GCT performer, plays Suzy.
“Suzy is the blonde ditz of the cast,” Lethco said. “She is very shocked when she receives an award. She’s a character who chews bubblegum and eats a lot. In the second act, she’s going through a rough patch in her life and she has a big surprise for the audience.
“I was sitting with my parents and an aunt and uncle the other day — listening to the music for this,” Lethco said. “Every song that came on, they were like, ‘Oh my gosh! I remember this! Plus, it’s just a fun show.’
Lauren Strickland, 23, of Greenwood, plays Cindy Lou.
“Cindy Lou is a big flirt,” Strickland said. “She is pretty much set on being prom queen. But, in act two, we see she has changed a lot. She’s kind of lived and loved.”
Mary Ashlynne Perkey, 19, of Greenwood, plays Missy.
“She is kind of the over-achiever of the group,” Perkey said. “She is in charge of making announcements at the prom and is kind of the mother hen of the friend group. She kind of comes out of her shell in the second act and something exciting happens. The script is kind of shaped around the music. The story of these girls is straight from the songs and each song applies to a character’s life.”
Taylor Baxley, 21, of Andrews, plays Betty Jean.
“Betty Jean is a weirdo,” Baxley said. “She’s a tomboy at heart and she has a lot of school spirit and energy — that she doesn’t know how to portray in a normal way.”
Another challenging aspect of this show for Baxley is the music.
“I’m normally a soprano but for this, I’m singing the lowest parts,” Baxley said. “That was an adjustment. A lot of the songs in this show are just really belty, especially the solo numbers. It’s kind of taxing on your voice. But, getting into the character kind of helps. I have to approach it not like the music student at Lander that I am, but as though I’m at a karaoke bar with my friends.”