Pull out your favorite vintage suit or gown and head down to NextStop Theatre Company’s black box. Inside, you will find the space fully converted into a high school gymnasium bedecked with everything from a full bar serving punch (spiked and not) to red and white balloons littering the gym floor. It’s prom night, 1958, and prom-goers are about to witness a special performance from The Marvelous Wonderettes. They are filling in for the boy’s glee club after one of the boys got suspended — again. Lucky us!
The Wonderettes guide us through an evening of musical fun with classics like “Stupid Cupid” and “Mr. Sandman” while simultaneously creating a window into their relationships to the school and with each other. Cindy Lou is the prima donna of the group, Missy has a secret love, Suzy needs us all to know that she just got pinned, and Betty Jeans is intent on doing her own thing — much to the chagrin of Cindy Lou. Relationships are exposed, bubbles are blown, and hair is pulled, but it all turns out OK in the end. After all, high school doesn’t last forever!
Super Senior Prom! Featuring: The Marvelous Wonderettes ’58 — written and created by Roger Bean, is a lovely example of what theater can be. With built-in audience interaction, The Wonderettes gently ask you to participate in the festivities with things like voting for prom queen and keeping their props safe while they figure out the next segment of their musical repertoire. Production designer Evan Hoffmann and director Carolyn Burke have put together a charming and functional set, ensuring The Wonderettes are front and center on a raised platform. The audience resides on the ground level and on several tiers of seats against the back wall. The seating is extremely cushy — each pair of seats has an accompanying table where audience members can store cheddar cheese popcorn, pretzels, or any of the other scrumptious snacks available for purchase at the bar.
Because the show is advertised as interactive, it might be a good idea to investigate more ways to center the audience. For example, Principal Varney (played by the hilarious Shaina Murphy) moves throughout the audience before The Wonderettes enter the space, taking notes on a clipboard and making small talk with audience members. She speaks with prom-goers about their choice of dress and what activities they have planned for the summer for a few minutes before lingering on the sidelines. There is an extended period before the show starts to allow audience members to visit the bar, and this creates a wealth of opportunity. In an interactive show, the relationship between the audience and actors begins as soon as we walk through the door, and if Murphy and her fellow actors are given more tools with which to work the crowd, we would feel more involved, and the atmosphere would be more believable.
The Wonderettes themselves are indeed Marvelous — each actor is a certified triple threat, and their vocal quartet is perfectly balanced. Jordyn Taylor’s voice is an absolute showstopper, and Taylor uses her operatic soprano to add comedic layers to the character of Missy. Taylor’s rendition of “Teacher’s Pet,” originally performed by Doris Day circa 1958, was excellent. Another standout performance was that of Emma Harris as Suzy. Harris’ voice is nimble and crystal clear, and she plays Suzy with genuine earnestness. Ruth McCoy Miles and Maya Tischler as Cindy Lou and Betty Jeans, respectively, have the difficult task of creating a contentious relationship with very little spoken dialogue. Each actor has the chops to do some heavy character-building during musical numbers, and Tischler and McCoy Miles’ comedic timing is spot on. Choreography adds a lot to this show, and it was smart to have Carolyn Burke as both director and choreographer. Burke’s choreography moves The Wonderettes seamlessly from musical numbers to scenes with dialogue, and Burke has quite an eye for physical comedy.
Super Senior Prom! Featuring: The Marvelous Wonderettes ’58 was truly a feast for the eyes and ears, and with squeaky clean choreography, superb talent, and killer musical arrangements, it’s the perfect summer show. Go, chipmunks!
Running Time: Two hours with no intermission.
Super Senior Prom: Featuring the Marvelous Wonderettes ’58 plays through August 6, 2023, at NextStop Theatre Company, 269 Sunset Park, Herndon VA. For tickets ($35), call the box office at (703)-481-5930. Reserved-seating tickets are available online or at the door on performance days.
Super Senior Prom: Featuring the Marvelous Wonderettes ’58
Written and Created by Roger Bean
Musical Arrangements by Brian William Baker
Orchestrations by Michael Borth
Vocal Arrangements by Roger Bean & Brian William Baker
Directed by Carolyn Burke
NextStop Theatre to host summer throwback ‘Super Senior Prom’ (news story, June 28, 2023)
NextStop Theatre Company announces 2023/24 season
(news story, June 6, 2023)