Utah Shakespeare Festival's fall show is a flash to the past

Review • Combination of memories and songs makes for a musical worth seeing.
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Cedar City • Occasionally we are all waylaid down the labyrinthine lanes of nostalgia, remembering the first time we fell in love or adventured out on our own from the safe harbor of home. We remember not only how we felt but where we were, whom we were with, what we wore, and even how things tasted and smelled so vividly that we can almost re-create the experience.

Often the music of the time is central to those memories, and when we hear a snatch of a familiar song in the present, it transports us instantly to the past. Musicals like "Forever Plaid" and, more recently, "The Jersey Boys" rely on those connections for their popularity, and this fall the Utah Shakespeare Festival is serving up a homegrown version with "The Marvelous Wonderettes."

Roger Bean, who created and directs the show; Bets Malone, the choreographer; and Brian William Baker, music director, all attended Southern Utah University and have longtime ties to the festival. But "The Marvelous Wonderettes" is far from a local variety show; the musical has had more than 300 productions around the world, including an award-winning run in Los Angeles and 18 months Off-Broadway in New York.

In the musical, The Marvelous Wonderettes have been selected to perform at their "super senior prom" at Springfield High School in 1958. Jo Winiarski's bright pink set teems with streamers, stars and championship banners, although the Springfield High Chipmunks have rarely placed better than third except for ping-pong and square dancing. Each girl has a signature color and is a recognizable type: Betty Jean (Natalie Storrs) is the class cutup; Cindy Lou (Barbara Jo Bednarczuk) is the flirtatious vamp; Missy (Victoria Cook) might be named Prissy for her obsession to be polite and correct; and Suzy (Cate Cozzens) is sweet and giggly and chews gun while she sings.

They treat us to a memorable medley of 1950s songs: "Mr. Sandman," "All I Have to Do Is Dream," "Secret Love," "Sincerely" and "Lollipop," among many others, as well as interacting continuously with the audience. Be prepared if you sit in the first row!

Act II finds the girls reassembling for a high-school reunion 10 years later. Bean uses 1960s songs like "Wedding Bell Blues," "You Don't Own Me," "It's My Party," "Leader of the Pack," "Rescue Me" and "Respect" so each woman can tell us about her life during the past decade. Jeffrey Lieder's colorful costumes transition from the big skirts with crinolines of the first act to miniskirts, feathers and boots.

The four young women are equally adept at harmonizing and belting out solo numbers, and their cheerful exuberance is contagious. They alternately compete with and support one another, which adds to the fun. Bean's lively direction, Malone's catchy choreography and Baker's crisp, clear musical direction combine to keep the show barreling along at a fast pace.

"The Marvelous Wonderettes" is a piece of candy-coated fluff, but it is very well done and consistently entertaining. Life in the past always seems simpler and more straightforward than dealing with the complexity of our modern world, and the present political mess at home and abroad makes an escape to earlier times even more appealing. "The Marvelous Wonderettes" makes you forget your troubles, even if it's just for a couple of hours. —

Review: 'The Marvelous Wonderettes'

Energetic, polished performances and an entire songbook of 1950s and '60s songs make "The Marvelous Wonderettes" fun-filled and entertaining.

When • Reviewed on Sept. 21; in rotating repertory with two other productions Tuesdays through Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. through Oct. 19.

Where • Randall Theatre, Utah Shakespeare Festival, 300 W. Center St., Cedar City.

Running time • Two hours and 10 minutes (including an intermission).

Tickets • $31 to $72 with discounts for groups, students and seniors. Tickets and information available at (800) PLAYTIX (752-9849) or www.bard.org.