The opening of The Marvelous Wonderettes on Valentine’s Day at the Chemainus Theatre couldn’t be more appropriate.
A love affair is sure to ensure with the four Wonderettes gals that will continue until March 28.
All four who make up the singing group belting out hit songs from the 1950s and ’60s during the performance will be well-known to regular Chemainus Theatre patrons. Makayla Moore portrays Cindy Lou (not the one from the Grinch), Ali Watson appears as Betty Jean, Alison MacDonald assumes the role of Suzy and Julia Ullrich is Missy.
Moore has been on stage at the Chemainus Theatre previously in Footloose and Grease; Watson in Grease and Mamma Mia!, MacDonald in Lumberjacks In Love, Wizard Of Oz, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, It’s A Wonderful Life and Elf: The Musical; and Ullrich in Sound of Music and Les Misérables.
They’re all looking forward to performing in this off-Broadway hit, written and created by Roger Bean originally as a one-act show before being expanded to two. The first act covers a 1958 high school prom and leads into the 10-year reunion of the girls in 1968 in the second act.
It’s almost a reunion of sorts for the four cast members, who have either worked together before or crossed paths at different times during their education and theatre experiences.
“It’s a fantastic show,” said Moore, 27. “The music is so iconic.”
Her background is mainly in dance and she went to Capilano University for music theatre to hone her overall acting talents.
The music in the show was obviously way before Moore’s time, but she gravitated to it, like the others; in her case through her grandparents.
“It’s such beautiful music and it’s so fun to do,” enthused Moore. “Every song that comes next, we say ‘we love this song.’
“It’ll take them (audience members) back, for sure. It’s a good time. There’s lots of heart in it. And it’s a sweet story.”
Songs in the first act include such well-known classics as Mr. Sandman, Stupid Cupid and Lipstick on Your Collar and – in the second act – You Don’t Own Me, I Only Want to Be With You, It’s My Party and Leader of the Pack.
The story revolves around the girls going through their trials and tribulations, but sticking together through thick and thin.
“The music alone, I think, is going to be a huge hit for the demographic here,” said Watson, 25.
She started her musical theatre experiences as a tree in the Wizard of Oz in Grade 5. “I was hooked ever since,” Watson said.
She developed ballet, hip-hop and tap prowess at a dance studio before moving toward theatre.
“And now I get to do it all which is fun,” Watson said.
They’re doing it all for the numbers in this performance, she added.
“Even though it is very much targeted for the older generation, I think there’s something in it for all ages. Everyone loves a jukebox musical.”
MacDonald described herself as “old enough to not tell and young at heart.”
Hailing from Edmonton, she also went to theatre school after high school and has been busy ever since. MacDonald loves how the four-part harmonies with all women sound in the performance.
“The Wonderettes, it’s really fun to revisit the 1950s and ’60s. It’s all about the music and the friendship of the girls. It’s just fun, it’s bubbly.”
MacDonald remembers her parents listening to a lot of this music on cassette tapes.
“Most of the songs I knew,” she pointed out. “There’s just a few I didn’t know before. The ’50s and ’60s, there’s a beauty in the simplicity. It’s nice to go and see a show and I’m going to have a good time. There’s such a value in it.”
Ullrich, 28, grew up in Deep Cove and lives in Vancouver, and is thrilled to be back at the Chemainus Theatre for the third time.
“It’s such a lovely place to be,” she said. “I like the town. The slow pace compared to Vancouver is very refreshing. Everybody’s so kind. It’s a really nice place to work.”
The role of Missy fit like a glove for Ullrich.
“My character is probably like a heightened version of myself,” she chuckled. “Hopefully, I’m not quite as intense as this character in real life. She’s super Type A and everything has to be just so.”
When she was very young, Ullrich remembers her aunt sending a mixed CD of ’50s and ’60s songs. Those in the show are given a slightly different sound.
“They’ve added these really great harmonies that didn’t exist in the originals – fun for people who know the songs,” she pointed out. “They’re elevated with all of us singing.”
For this time of the year, “we’ll definitely be a spirit-lifter and easy to watch,” noted Ullrich.
For Julie Tomaino, born and raised in Vancouver, this is her first time directing a performance at the Chemainus Theatre after previously choreographing Footloose and Grease here.
“There’s so much draw for the audience,” she said. “It’s just a good show. You just fall in love with the girls themselves, their personalities. The show is ultimately about the girls. These girls are super frickin’ talented.”
One of the challenges for Tomaino in directing this show might not be readily apparent.
“There’s a lot of itty-bitty prop things,” she reasoned. “How do we do that with these four girls?”
But Tomaino is happy how it’s all come together during rehearsals.
“It’s not just a review show,” she said. “The music is so strong and the power of friendship is so prevalent throughout the entire show.”