“The Marvelous Wonderettes” Is a Hilarious Homage to 1950s High School Songleader Squads

"The Marvelous Wonderettes" stars (from left) Cassandra Zangas Vallery, Annie Gane, Sherri Lee Allen, and Meredith Jones (photo by Lauren Kennedy)
"The Marvelous Wonderettes" stars (from left) Cassandra Zangas Vallery, Annie Gane, Sherri Lee Allen, and Meredith Jones (photo by Lauren Kennedy)

"The Marvelous Wonderettes" stars (from left) Cassandra Zangas Vallery, Annie Gane, Sherri Lee Allen, and Meredith Jones (photo by Lauren Kennedy)
"The Marvelous Wonderettes" stars (from left) Cassandra Zangas Vallery, Annie Gane, Sherri Lee Allen, and Meredith Jones (photo by Lauren Kennedy)

The second show of Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy’s seventh season is The Marvelous Wonderettes, which will play June 29-July 3 and July 6-10 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Progress Energy Center in downtown Raleigh, NC. This hilarious homage to 1950s high school Songleader squads features a breezy book by Seattle, WA-born producer, director, and playwright Roger Bean and a score comprised of 1950s and 1960s Top 40 hits, such as “Mr. Sandman”; “Lollipop”; “Sugartime”; “All I Have to Do Is Dream”; “Dream Lover”; “Stupid Cupid”; “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me”; “Lipstick on Your Collar”; “It’s in His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)”; and “It’s My Party.”

“The first time I saw The Marvelous Wonderettes was at Circle Theatre in the Park in Grand Rapids, MI in 2001,” recalls Hot Summer Nights guest director and choreographer Tito Hernandez. “The same season I and my assistant director/choreographer Sherry Lee Allen, staged Chicago for them.”

He adds, “I enjoy the music most for its nostalgic impact in American ‘pop culture’ and the remembrance of an era when times were simpler. I wanted to direct it because of its light cotton candy-colored elements that included a whacky cast of characters which almost everyone could relate with.”

The Marvelous Wonderettes made its Off-Broadway debut on Sept. 14, 2008 at the Westside Theatre (Upstairs), where it played through Jan. 3, 2010 and was nominated for the 2009 Drama League Award for Distinguished Production of a Musical.

Hot Summer Nights guest director and choreographer Tito Hernandez says, “The show takes place in anywhere USA in 1958 where a four-girl singing group [played by Sherri Lee Allen, Annie Gane, Meredith Jones and Cassandra Zangas Vallery] provides the entertainment for their senior prom. Their relationships and conflicts are shared with the audience, if even at times, [when it’s] not intended.

“Later in the second act,” Hernandez says, “we find ourselves at the 10-year high school reunion where once again the four-girl singing group is asked to provide the entertainment. Although the audience is expected to suspend reality for a lot of the scenarios, the plot runs the gamut of every emotion, constantly taking us on a hilarious roller-coaster ride from situation to situation.”

In addition to director and choreographer Tito Hernandez and assistant director and choreographer Sherry Lee Allen, the Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy creative team for The Marvelous Wonderettes includes husband-and-wife producers Alan Campbell and Lauren Kennedy, fellow producers Adam Twiss and Hilary Russo, musical director Julie Bradley, set and lighting designer Chris Bernier, costume designer LeGrande Smith, wig designer Patti DelSordo, properties manager Devra Thomas, sound designer Eric Collins, and stage manager Mette C.J. Schladweiler. The Hot Summer Nights band includes Julie Bradley and Andre Cerullo on keyboards, guitarist Drew Lile, and percussionist John Hanks.

Tito Hernandez says the show’s set is a “high school gym with a temporary performing stage set [up] by the students”; its lighting is “colorful and timed to help the audience clearly follow the plot and enjoy the action”; and its costumes are “period 1958 dresses in the first act and period 1968 dresses in the second act.”

Hernandez claims, “The most challenging element [in staging The Marvelous Wonderettes for Hot Summer Nights] is producing a quality show with very little time and not a lot of money.

“Since the four main characters remain on stage for the entire production, performing intricate harmonies and era-appropriate choreography,” he adds, “they must remain focused in meeting these rigorous demands with complete dedication. Fortunately, the talented cast, crew, and design team are committed to meeting this challenge.”

In addition to Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (June 8-12 and 15-19), Sirius/XM’s Broadway host Seth Rudetsky’s Big Fat Broadway Show and Rudetsky’s Master Class on auditioning (both June 13th), and The Marvelous Wonderettes (June 29-July 3 and July 6-10), Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy’s 2011 season includes A Field of Glory (July 20-24 and 27-31) a new original play written by Sharon Talbot; Violet: A New Musical (Aug. 17-21 and 24-28), with music by Jeanine Tesori and a book by Brian Crawley, based on the short story “The Ugliest Pilgrim” by N.C. author Doris Betts; and the concert Oh, What a Night! (Aug. 31 and Sept. 1), which features an all-star cast singing songs from shows too big for Hot Summer Nights.

Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy presents THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES at 8 p.m. June 29-July 2, 3 p.m. July 3, 8 p.m. July 6-9, and 3 p.m. July 10 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theater in the Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.

TICKETS: $22 ($18 students, seniors, and active-duty military personnel).

BOX OFFICE: 866/811-4111 or https://www.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/27655.

SHOW: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/2011season/MarvelousWonderettes.asp.

SERIES: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/2011season.asp.

PRESENTER: http://www.hotsummernightsatthekennedy.org/.

VENUE: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/venue/kennedy-theatre.

DIRECTIONS: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/directions.

PARKING: http://www.progressenergycenter.com/parking.


The Musical: http://www.marvelouswonderettes.com/ (official website), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Marvelous_Wonderettes (Wikipedia), and http://www.lortel.org/ (Internet Off-Broadway Database).

The Playwright: http://rogerbean.com/ (official website), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Bean (Wikipedia), and http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=people&first=Roger&middle=&last=Bean (Internet Off-Broadway Database).

Tito Hernandez: http://www.nctheatre.com/conservatory/instructors.html (North Carolina Theatre).


Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.

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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.

By Robert W. McDowell

Robert W. McDowell is a Raleigh, NC-based freelance writer, editor, and critic. He has written theater, film, book, and music previews and reviews for The News & Observer, The Raleigh Times, Spectator Magazine, and Classical Voice of North Carolina, all based in Raleigh. In 1980-91, he covered business, industry, government, and education for (We the People of) North Carolina magazine, published monthly by N.C. Citizens for Business and Industry. In April 2001, McDowell started Robert's Reviews, a FREE weekly e-mail newsletter that provides comprehensive, in-depth coverage of the performing arts in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, which includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro. Triangle Review is the latest-and-greatest version of McDowell's original newsletter. (To start your FREE subscription, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE TR in the Subject: line.) From December 1980 until September 2017, McDowell served on the board of directors of The Cinema, Inc., a Raleigh-based nonprofit film society formed in 1966. He currently publishes a weekly list of FREE advance screenings of movies in the Triangle area. (To have your e-mail address added to this FREE list, e-mail robertm748[at]aol.com and type SUBSCRIBE FFL FREE in the Subject: line.) McDowell also co-edited and supervised the production of Jim Valvano's Guide to Great Eating (JTV Enterprises, 1984), a 224-page sports celebrity cookbook; and he served as a fact checker for Valvano: They Gave Me a Lifetime Contract, and Then They Declared Me Dead (Pocket Books, 1991).