Wednesday, June 1, 2022

ASF: "The Marvelous Wonderettes"

Now playing at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, The Marvelous Wonderettes is a jukebox musical featuring songs of the 1950s [Act I] and the 1960s [Act II] as performed by the eponymous "Wonderettes" Missy [Andrea Dotto], Cindy Lou [Meadow Nguy], Betty Jean [Alanna Saunders], and Suzy [Leanne Smith], a quartet from Springfield High School conscripted as substitute entertainment for their Senior Prom, and later entertaining at their 10-year reunion.

Written and created by Roger Bean, this 1999 script has developed into a small cottage industry of later iterations of these women's escapades. -- For audiences hooked on nostalgia, there is a lot to entertain: all those familiar songs ranging from "Mr. Sandman" to "Lollipop" to "Lipstick On Your Collar" to "Dream Lover" get the picture. -- And Mr. Bean's slight script lets us into the young women's personalities, relationships with men and rivalries with one another; all fairly predictable.

But the story is not the main thing that keeps audiences engaged. It's the music.

Director and choreographer Melissa Rain Anderson sets a lively pace throughout, and challenges the four actors to give it their all over the two acts. And there is a lot of talent on the Festival stage that hooks us into their stories and focuses attention on dynamic delivery throughout the two hour running time. -- Just sit back and enjoy the ride that the quartet delivers with enthusiasm and energy. It's non-stop entertainment of dozens of songs interspersed with laughter and tears as they discover and develop their friendships over time.

Adam Koch's scenic design replicates a polished high school gymnasium decorated for Prom, and costumes by Dottie Marshall Englis dress the characters in period looking outfits with matching dresses and shoes. Rob Denton's lighting keeps things brightly upbeat, and Lindsay Jones's sound design ups the volume to engage audience participation [several in the audience could be heard singing along with some of the songs].

The Marvelous Wonderettes is a welcome respite from more serious matters facing us today. 

Wetumpka Depot: "The Trip to Bountiful"

Horton Foote's award winning 1953 play The Trip to Bountiful has opened at the Wetumpka Depot under the confident direction of Cushing Phillips, whose solid ensemble actors and design team sustain Foote's atmospheric study of old age with gentle naturalism.

Familiar to many from the 1985 film with Geraldine Page's Academy Award winning performance, the play recounts Carrie Watts's [Teri Sweeney] escape from the Houston, Texas apartment she shares with her son and daughter-in-law in order to return to the rural town of Bountiful where she was raised just one more time before she dies. -- Along the way, she encounters several characters who collectively ensure her journey is complete.

Carrie's son Ludie [Douglas Mitchell] is concerned about his Mother's declining physical and mental health, but is thwarted by his wife Jessie Mae [Laela Bunn] who clearly dislikes her Mother-in-law and who exerts every means possible to run the household and rein-in Carrie with constant instructions to "walk, not run" and to stop humming religious hymns around the apartment. It's no wonder that audiences are immediately on Carrie's side. -- Mr. Mitchell's performance demonstrates admirable vocal and physical comfort, and Ms. Bunn deftly skirts the limits of a petulant harridan with an occasional hint of compassion for Carrie.

When Carrie maneuvers her escape -- without money, but with a lot of gumption; and her pension check in hand -- she travels by bus near enough to Bountiful to fulfill her dream. An assortment of ticket agents, a local sheriff, and a kind-hearted younger woman named Thelma [Amy May shines in a couple of scenes] get her to her destination. But Carrie's romanticized recollection of bygone days is doomed to disappointment: old friends have died, the town is deserted, and Carrie's homestead is a dilapidated ruin. Nonetheless, her resolute demeanor has got her where she wanted to go, and she and her family make a few compromises for the future.

All eyes are on Ms. Sweeney as she inhabits the role of Carrie with subtle nuances of vocal and emotional range, garnering every bit of sympathy from audiences as she rarely appears to be "acting". Hers is a masterful performance; even the occasional abrupt shifts of temperament are grounded in the truth of the moment.

Charles Eddie Moncrief III's distressed black and grey moveable set pieces enable the Depot stage to depict numerous locations; he is abetted by Thomas Rodman's lighting design in creating an atmosphere that compliments the narrative and the character relationships.

The Trip to Bountiful is a solid production without flash or exciting action, but a gentle reminder of the value we ought to give to the needs of our older generations.