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The Marvelous Wonderettes:Caps and Gowns

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Roger Bean has found a formula for musical theater success. He first tested it with the premiere of his musical comedy, The Marvelous Wonderettes; it was a smash hit at the Laguna Playhouse, in 2008, before it moved on to a long and lucrative run in New York City. After that surprise success, Bean created a seasonal version of the show and called it The Winter Wonderettes. It too paid-off in pleased audiences and long runs. Now, Bean is at it again with his latest Wonderettes iteration, The Marvelous Wonderettes, Caps & Gowns, currently in its debut at the Laguna Playhouse, through August 12.

The formula is simple. Take four accomplished musical comedy actresses, line up a retro hit parade for them to sing and dance to backed up by a live band-- in Caps & Gowns it’s a four-piece orchestra conducted by Michael Borth-- and build a two-act scenario around the songs. The first act typically takes place in the 1950s; the second act is usually set a decade later at a reunion.

This is the template that is followed to a tee in Caps & Gowns. We become re-acquainted with the four Wonderettes on graduation day at Springfield High School, in 1958. There’s bespectacled Missy (Misty Cotton performing as a nerdy and repressed character who comes to vivacious life when singing); there’s love-struck Suzy (cutely crafted by Bets Malone); there’s Cindy Lou (Lowe Taylor perfecting the persona of the stuck-up putdown artist); and, there’s Betty Jean (Jenna Coker-Jones in an over-the-top portrayal of a class clown).

In the second act, it’s ten years later and the ladies are together again for a class reunion. In act one, with songs such as "Rockin’ Robin" and "Oh Boy" guiding the narrative, we become familiar with the dispositions and antics of the girls. In act two, we see how life has unfolded for the ladies after the trials and troubles of high school. Songs like "You Keep Me Hanging On", "It’s Gonna Take a Miracle", and "River Deep, Mountain High" provide the soundtrack for this era of the women’s lives.

Not to worry, though. It’s all pretty much light entertainment that avoids the complexities of history (there’s no suggestion of political assassinations, no Vietnam War references, and no life traumas, per se). Indeed, all that we are exposed to here are the shenanigans of girlfriends standing the tests of time and embodied by top-notch performers with exquisite comedy timing. In fact, the closest we come to an emotional catharsis is with Jenna Coker-Jones’ soulful, tearful rendition of "Miracle."

Directed by Bean, with clever choreography by Roger Castellano, the show is played out on a set simply designed by Michael Carnahan and with amusingly colorful costuming by Bobby Pearce. In two hours (with one intermission), and with 33 song and dance routines, Caps & Gowns is stuffed full of fun and toe-tapping renditions of some classic rock ‘n roll tunes.

More than anything, though,the production is a showcase for this quartet of accomplished players, each one a triple-threat, demonstrating impressive vocal, dance, and acting skills. A suggestion: Shorten the program by three or four songs, cut the intermission and aim for a 90-minute show. That way, rather than leaving us overly satiated with entertainment, we are left wanting more.

And, according to a recent interview in The Orange County Register with Roger Bean, he plans on extending the Wonderette franchise into other eras. He’s quoted as saying “I like appealing to different generations. I imagine I could keep going with them (The Wonderettes) until I’ve got them on walkers.”   With these stellar performers, walkers wouldn’t be likely to interfere with their charming ebullience.

The Marvelous Wonderettes, Caps & Gowns continues at the Laguna Playhouse – 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach – through August 12. Evening performances are Tuesday – Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Matinees are Saturdays and Sundays and 2 p.m. For reservations, dial (949) 497–2787. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.lagunaplayhouse.com.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.