Arts & Culture

Sweet and innocent past comes to life

From left, Caitlin Fuller, Danielle Mendoza, Michelle Hansen and Jessica Quandt play best friends and singers in ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes.’
From left, Caitlin Fuller, Danielle Mendoza, Michelle Hansen and Jessica Quandt play best friends and singers in ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes.’ Tribune photo

Meet Cindy Lou, Suzy, Missy and Betty Jean. Together, they’re the Marvelous Wonderettes, four of the cutest coeds to ever attend Springfield High School. And they’re about to make your night.

A jukebox musical in the vein of “Jersey Boys” and “Smokey Joe’s Café,” “The Marvelous Wonderettes” features some of the hottest hits from the 1950s and ’60s, including “Lollipop,” “Dream Lover” and “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me.”

The production, which runs Friday through Sept. 23 at the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, marks the start of its 66th season, which Managing Artistic Director Kevin Harris promises will be packed with crowd pleasers.

“We’re trying to broaden our audience as much as possible,” he said.

Blast from the past

Written by Roger Bean and arranged by Brian William Baker, “The Marvelous Wonderettes” transports audiences to a simpler time, when doo-wop dominated the jukebox, Ricky Nelson ruled the tube, and kids congregated at malt shops and sock hops.

The year is 1958 — the occasion, Springfield High School’s senior prom.

After the night’s planned entertainment gets caught smoking cigarettes, best friends and fellow prom queen nominees Cindy Lou Huffington (Michelle Hansen), Suzy Simpson (Caitlin Fuller), Missy Miller (Danielle Mendoza) and Betty Jean Reynolds (Elizabeth Premer) are asked to sing.

All four girls — identified by their signature colors — are members of the Variety Song Leaders squad. They’re also typical teenage girls coping with all the issues of that precocious age, including love, friendship, betrayal and heartbreak.

When the girls reunite in the second act, set at Springfield’s 10-year reunion in 1968, all those old emotions come bubbling to the surface once more.

Luckily, the Wonderettes know they can always work through their problems in song.

“Whenever they’re the Won-

derettes, the real world gets shut out,” Harris explained. “This girl group really protects them from a lot of stuff.”

According to director-choreographer Jake Liam McGuire, “The Marvelous Wonderettes” features a straightforward storyline, plenty of audience participation and fabulously fun song-and-dance numbers performed by four—make that five — talented singers.

“They all have amazing voices, and great acting chops too,” McGuire said of his all-female cast.

Although Fuller and Mendoza are new to the San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, Hansen previously appeared in shows such as “This Is Rock ’N’ Roll! The Alan Freed Story,” “Swingin’ With Sinatra” and “Oklahoma!”

Premer is a Little Theatre veteran too, having appeared in “You Can’t Take It With You,” “Shimmy Shake Shine,” “The Fantasticks” and other productions. (Company newcomer Jessica Quandt serves as her understudy.)

Keith Wetzel designed the cast’s colorful costumes. The rest of the “Marvelous Wonderettes” crew includes stage manager/ lighting operator Pam Hester, scenic designer Dave Linfield and lighting designer John Battalino.

The soundtrack, meanwhile, ranges from undisputed classics such as “Mr. Sandman,” “It’s My Party” and “Leader of the Pack” to lesser known numbers like “Allegheny Moon,” “Born Too Late” and “Lucky Lips.”

Out of the 30 songs in the show, McGuire said, “Twenty of them are still on the radio today.”

“Ninety percent of the people who come to the show that have a favorite song from this time period will hear their favorite song,” said the director, who owns The Spot in Arroyo Grande. (He’s also currently working with the Great American Melodrama & Vaudeville in Oceano.)

McGuire is particularly fond of a Motown medley that mixes “Rescue Me” and “R. E.S.P.E.C. T.”

“That Aretha Franklin sound is what I love the most,” he said. “This is one of my favorite eras of music and American history.”

More to come

According to Harris, “The Marvelous Wonderettes” has just the kind of widespread appeal he’s looking for this season.

The San Luis Obispo Little Theatre’s new season continues this year with the election-season drama “The Best Man,” running Oct. 12 through Nov. 4, and the heartwarming holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Nov. 30 through Dec. 23. Then, in 2013, comes the 1970s musical “Watergate and Other Solid Gold Hits!,” the overseas romance “Enchanted April” and the family- friendly musical “The Sound of Music.”

“This year we really wanted to expand our base and show that live theater is still valued in this community,” Harris said, noting that the company is still offering the Ubu’s Other Shoe staged reading series and No Shame Theatre program. “This is going to be a great season.”

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907.