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Nascent Short North Stage reaches into past for ‘Wonderettes’

Courtesy of Rick Gore

The Short North Stage is offering the chance to travel into the past, sans a time machine, in its production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes.”

The show opens at 8 p.m. Thursday and will run through March 4.

“The Marvelous Wonderettes” is the first full musical and second full production at the Garden Theatre since it re-opened in October.

Roger Bean wrote and created the off-Broadway musical that follows four high school friends in an all-girl singing group, The Marvelous Wonderettes.

The production will be housed in the Green Room of the Garden Theatre.

“I’m really excited to show the space off because it hasn’t been used in this capacity before,” said Jacquie Miller, who plays attention-seeking Betty Jean in the musical. “This is the first time this space is being used for a theatrical production.”

Miller, Dionysia Williams, Jackie Comisar, Maya Sayre and Katie Kerry make up the four-part cast. Kerry has a swing role in the musical, which serves as an understudy for multiple roles.

Outside of their full-time jobs (including motherhood for some), each woman has their own challenges and excitement within the musical.

Kerry said the balancing act of raising three children while assuming her role in the musical is the most taxing feat.

“It’s just about truly focusing on each job individually and not trying to multitask them together,” Kerry said.

“You know, when I’m a mom I have to be a mom, and when I’m an actor, I’m an actor.”

Williams faced similar difficulty in trying to balance the different personality traits of her character, Cindy Lou.

“I’m kind of like the pretty prom queen,” Williams said. “So the challenge is to still give her some heart while she is still kind of being a little witchy. You’re not going to like her at times, but you still want the audience to feel for her. In Act 2, she definitely has the biggest journey.”

The cultural shift from the 1950s to the ‘60s is captured through almost 30 songs in four-part harmony featured in the production, including the iconic Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman” and “Lollipop.”

Comisar cited the amount of material in the show as her biggest challenge in the musical.

“The show is a lot of physical comedy with props,” said Comisar, who plays Missy, the over-achiever.

“Pacing and just coordinating … has been a little bit of a challenge.”

The first scene opens to the Wonderettes’ 1958 Springfield prom, where the group replaces the previously scheduled entertainment, and picks up 10 years later at their high school reunion.

Director of the musical, Matt Clemens, said the first act showcases the bubblegum feel that represented the 1950s. The time where “nobody ever says dirty words,” he said.

“In Act 2 … they are much more adult,” Clemens said. “The music of the ‘60s lends itself to more hip movement. We have no hip movement in Act 1. It’s all very upper body and very cutesy.”

At first, the choreographer of the musical, Tony Calucci, found it difficult to mimic those subtle upper body gestures that resonate with 1950s female performers.

“They all stood and sang,” Calucci said. “There wasn’t a lot of movement. They were all dressed in pretty dresses and they stood still and did very little movement, until you get to the ‘60s and then the influence of groups like The Supremes. They created movement.”

Calucci studied old 1950s and 1960s performance recordings by female singing groups in preparation to choreograph the show. His goal is to send the audience back in time through the dance featured in the show.  

Sayre, who plays Suzy, said she found her background in musical theater helped her juggle the many elements featured in the show, including dance.

“Singing the four-part harmony, while doing the choreography, while maintaining your character,”Sayre said. “That’s probably the biggest challenge with the choreography for me, just remembering it while trying to do all the other things.”

Tickets to see “The Marvelous Wonderettes” are $22 and can be purchased by calling (866) 967-8167.

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