Encore Michigan

‘Wonderettes’ are a delight at Meadow Brook

Review April 28, 2019 Amy J. Parrent

ROCHESTER HILLS, Mich.–Welcome to Springfield High School (Go Chipmunks!). It’s Super Senior Prom night, ca. 1958. The usual musical entertainment, The Crooning Crab Cakes, will not be performing due to lead singer Billy Ray Patton’s suspension for smoking on school premises. But you’re sure to enjoy the replacements, the quartet of young women dubbed the Marvelous Wonderettes.  And later this evening we’ll catch up with them at their 10-year reunion.

The jukebox musical now at Meadow Brook Theatre is not trying to address the great world issues. Although I’d make a strong case that having more Motown songs and other classic pop hits in the world cannot hurt.

And there is plenty of such music, as the plot is built around American pop songs of the 1950s and 60s, from “Lollipop” to “Leader of the Pack,” “Mr. Sandman” to “Son of a Preacher Man,” “Mr. Lee” to “Rescue Me.”  In fact, it will gradually dawn on you that certain characters and situations might just have been constructed to fit with a particular song.

The four young women include hilariously bossy but kind Missy, played with appropriate authority – and a strong set of pipes – by Kai Stidham. Emily Hadick is boisterous Betty Jean, who can also belt a tune. Hannah Fairman is Cindy Lou, Emily’s off-and-on best friend (depending on boy issues), who brings her own kind of spunky attitude. Olivia Ursu is that enthusiastic blonde “popular” girl we all know, madly in love with Richie, who’s up in the lighting booth. (In fact, a variety of unseen characters, along with impromptu audience participation, help fill out the cast.)

In both 1958 and 1968, the young ladies each have their own color schemes (subtly echoed in the sets and lighting). Green, orange, sky blue or pink reflect – or sometimes play against – their personalities. The actor/singers also do a nice job of exhibiting their characters in movement as well as dialog and songs. (The most obvious is how certain changes affect Suzy a decade after we first see her.)

On opening night there might have been a few small gaffes or issues. Maybe parts of a song are not quite in the singer’s range. Perhaps there was a missed lighting cue.

But overall, it is a fast-paced two hours. Choreographer Tyrick Wiltez Jones has immersed the songs in energetic choreography befitting enthusiastic teens, while director Travis W. Walter has once again guided the show to move briskly through 35+ songs of teen and twenty-something love and angst. The fine five-piece band led by Michael Rice makes sure the hits keep coming.

Mike Duncan’s sound design assures we keep hearing all those lyrics too. Costume designer Karen Kangas-Preston did a just-right job creating the look of dresses made by a high schooler (Missy). Brian Kessler’s scenic design will take you back to your high school gym. (That’s a good thing.) Lighting designer Reid Johnson not only creates the usual onstage effects, his work is almost another character, representing Richie up in the booth.

Whether these songs were your jam the first time around, or something you know from grandma’s record collection or YouTube, the charming cast and trunkful of hit tunes will entertain you here in 2019.

Click here for show days, times and details.

To sign up for the Encore Michigan weekly newsletter, click here.