🎭 Nostalgia is a Funny Thing | “Wonderettes/Dream On” @ Canyon Theatre Guild

The Marvelous Wonderettes - Dream On (Canyon Theatre Guild)Roger Bean has made an industry out of nostalgia. In a series of “off-broadway” level musicals (i.e., musicals designed for a smaller cast, fewer sets, and more intimate venues), he had built upon a desire to look back on what were perceived as simpler times viewed through the haze of nostalgia. Examples include The Andrews Brothers (which we saw back in 2010 at Cabrillo/5-Star), Life Could Be a Dream (which we saw at the Hudson Mainstage back in 2009), and The Marvelous Wonderettes (which we saw back in 2006 at the El Portal).  This type of show has a musical lineage stretching back to Forever Plaid (which we first saw back in 1991 at the Pasadena Playhouse, and then again in 2006 at Cabrillo, and again in 2014 at Cabrillo). And, just like with Plaid and the follow-on Plaid shows, Bean has found a forumula that works, crafting multiple follow-ons to the Wonderettes line: The Marvelous Wonderettes – Cap and Gowns,  and The Marvelous Wonderettes – Dream On. This last show has made its way to Santa Clarita, and is currently being presented by the Canyon Theatre Guild.

Dream On continues the story of the Wonderettes, who we first meet at 1958 at their graduation. This musical places them at a teacher’s retirement celebration in 1969, and a 20th class regionin in 1978. This allows the show to revisit the music of the late 1960s and the 1970s. Those dates are interesting, when viewed from the present day (2024). I’ve written about this before, but you’re talking a 66 year difference to 1958; 55 years to 1969; and 46 years to 1978. If you think about it, that’s like someone in the mid 1970s being nostalgic for the music of the 1910s, 1920s, and 1930s. The 50s first started being popular in the late 1970s, the difference was less — perhaps 30 years. That would mean right now, the “kids” should be nostalgic for the late 1990s. Actually, that’s starting, and the recent musical MJ, just at the Pantages, is an example of that. Classic rock stations have already shifted their time window to the right. I wonder how long the music of the Wonderette’s series will be popular, and how long audiences will still understand the references. This may not bode well for musicals like Grease.

One more quick note about the 1950 through 1970s. This period is often viewed through rose-colored glasses, often created by TV sitcoms or filtered remembrances of childhood. It is viewed as a simpler and better time, when streets were safe, and it was a white bread world. Emphasis on the white. That, of course, isn’t true when you look at the reality. There were race riots and financial strife, and life for many wasn’t what is portrayed in the media. But the rosy view of memory is strong, and certain politicians these days try to take advantage of it, without recognizing the positive ways our society has improved. Enough of that soapbox, but for those interested, I’ll refer folks to my ballot recommendations for the upcoming California March Primary election. You can make a difference to keep us moving forward by voting. In terms of this show, there are just mere hints of the changes that were coming, mostly in terms of the emerging women’s movement of the late 1970s.

The show itself was very entertaining, with a strong mixture of songs from the late 1960s and 1970s. The songs were less the rock of the era (nary a Beatles tune in the mix), but more the ones for which girl-group harmony was a good fit. Less Rolling Stones, more Fifth Dimension, if you get my drift. The story was the tried-and-true Wonderettes’ story of what is happening in their lives and loves, with the usual intergroup sniping. It is here that you see the work involved in writing, and how the book writer had to make the story fit the names in the songs (as such, the “Mr. Lee” and “Johnny” referenced as husbands/boyfriends harkens back to the mothership production, and the songs in that show that referenced a Mr. Lee and a Johnny as love interest. There are a few additional such fittings in this show, such as a reference to “angel face”.

One of the best parts of the show was the audience participation. At various points in the show, audience members are brought (unsuspectingly) to the stage as characters in the show; notably Miss McPherson in the first act. Some play along; some don’t. Our McPherson was more shocked than taking on the role of a teacher, but it was interesting to watch her reaction. There were similar events in the second half. Notably, they tried to recruit me to be the father-in-law of one of the characters. I declined; it was a good thing because they then had the character dance The Hustle on stage. I didn’t dance the Hustle when it was popular in the 1970s; don’t expect me to do it now! Still, the audience interaction was well played and hilarious.

The performances from the four ladies forming the Wonderettes were very strong. I was particularly impressed by Kelly Miyake Cindy Lou Huffington and Zoë Bryant Betty Jean Reynolds, who were both really strong singers. It was also great to see Jill Scott again; we haven’t seen her since 2014 and the days of Rep East Playhouse (they closed in 2015; the space is now The Main). But all the singers were great. If there was one shortcoming, it was the use of recorded music. However, that was understandable—CTG is a community theatre, and live orchestras are expensive in Southern California. The show was directed by another RepEast alumna, Leslie Berra, who flew in from all the work she does in Nashville TN. She did a great job of bringing out the individual characterizations well.

The Marvelous Wonderettes — Dream On. Written and Created by Roger Bean. Vocal and Musical Arrangements by Michael Borth. Cast: Zoë Bryant Betty Jean Reynolds, Kelly Miyake Cindy Lou Huffington, Jill Scott Missy Lee, Sarah Stoddard Suzy Stevens. Production and Creative Team: Leslie Berra Director; Nancy Alterman Choreography; Mo Davis Asst. Director; Ingrid Boydston Addl Choreography; Leslie Berra Vocal Direction; John Alexopolous Co-Set Designer; Douglas Holiday Co-Set Designer; Scarlett Lang Lighting Designer; Leslie Berra Costume Design; Maria Falasca Costume Assistant; Michael T. Smith Lighting Designer Mentor; Mo Davis Stage Manager.

The Marvelous Wonderettes — Dream On continues at Canyon Theatre Guild through Feb. 24. Tickets are available through the CTG Website; they may be available through discount sites such as Goldstar or TodayTix.

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Administrivia: I am not a professional critic. I’m a cybersecurity professional, a roadgeek who does a highway site and a podcast about California Highways, and someone who loves live performance. I buy all my own tickets, unless explicitly noted otherwise. I do these writeups to share my thoughts on shows with my friends and the community. I encourage you to go to your local theatres and support them (ideally, by purchasing full price tickets, if you can afford to do so). We currently subscribe or have memberships at: Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson TheatreBroadway in Hollywood/Pantages TheatrePasadena PlayhouseGeffen Playhouse (Mini-Subscription); 5-Star Theatricals. We’re looking for the right intimate theatre to subscribe at — it hasn’t been the same since Rep East died (it’s now The Main, and although it does a lot of theatre, it doesn’t have seasons or a resident company), and post-COVID, most 99-seaters aren’t back to doing seasons (or seasons we like). I used to do more detailed writeups; here’s my current approach.

Upcoming Theatre – Next 90ish Days:

On the Theatrical Horizon:

There are a few shows for which announcements have crossed my transom that may be of interest: The CSUN Theatre Department in Northridge will be doing the Spongebob Musical in April 2024. We really wanted to see this when it was on tour in 2020, but the tour was killed by COVID; we did drive up to Woodland CA to see a friend in a community theatre production of it. It is a great show about science and climate denial. Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse in Woodland Hills will be doing Hands on a Hardbody in May 2024. CSH announced this back in 2020, but it was killed by COVID; I’m glad to see it will be back (and with another RepEast alumna in the cast, even). Morgan-Wixson Theatre in Santa Monica has announced their Mainstage 2024 Season, and it includes Bat Boy the Musical running Sept 28 through October 18. We saw Bat Boy back when CSUN did it in 2014; it is a wonderful musical about how a society treats outsiders. Conundrum Theatre Company will be doing Urinetown The Musical in mid to late March 2024 at the Broadwater; this is a great musical, but we can’t fit it into the schedule (nor does my wife care to see it again). However, if you haven’t seen it, it is worth seeing. I also just learned about a theatre company in Fullerton, Maverick Theater. They are doing Evil Dead: The Musical , which is a hoot if you’ve never seen it (we’ve seen it twice). They also have some interesting other stuff on their season, and we might drive down for Santa Claus Vs The Martians in November.