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- Girl Group Evolution: A Pictorial History
- The Marvelous Wonderettes: A Contextual Timeline
- Interview with Creator/Direcor Roger Bean
- A Brief History of Girl Groups
From the Los Angeles Times:
Music tastes and styles may have changed, but one permanent fixture in popular culture over the past five decades is the girl group. It's the band as concept, and one defined by a uniform look or theme.
But how did we get from the Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack," a densely orchestrated tale of teenage tragedy, to the Pussycat Dolls' "Don't Cha," a dark club tune that preys on our insecurities about superficiality?
From the refined to the raunchy, the Chantels to the Spice Girls, here's a look at some notable girl groups over the years - with some girl bands who copped a thing or two from their more prefab peers thrown in.
While Suzy, Cindy Lou, Missy and Betty Jean were walking the halls at Springfield High, American Bandstand made its television debut, the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum and Elvis Presley was King. See our timeline for a greater sense of what was going on in the world during the high school years of our favorite Springfield High Chipmunks.
Interview with Creator/Director Roger Bean
What was your inspiration for The Marvelous Wonderettes?
I was inspired by my mother, who was songleader at her high school in Lynwood California in the 50s. I didn't really know what a songleader was - she explained the difference between what she did and what the cheerleaders did, and I thought it was very interesting. My mother also used to sing around the house all the time when I was growing up. She sang a lot of songs from the 50s and 60s - so this music was in my head. I'm never really sure where the initial inspiration from a show comes from, or when the idea really took root in my brain, but it was most definitely inspired by my mother. The rest of the show really came from wanting to find a way to highlight and showcase this amazing music in a new and entertaining way.
What was the selection process like for choosing the songs to include in the show? Did the narrative come first, or did the music of the times (reflecting social mores, for example) inform the characters, story and relationships?
I have a collection of about 12,000 songs in my media center. I listen to a lot of music. I have to say that my Mac computer helped me a lot -- I listen to songs over and over, put them into different playlists, rate them, move them around. Then I let the songs sit and bubble for a while. I'm always writing - whether I'm puttering around the house, working in my office, or while I sit on freeways in Southern California - and certain storylines come to the surface of my thinking and make sense for certain songs. Some of my characters start out very clearly defined, and others become more defined by the songs they sing. Because of the nature of this show, the music really does define who the characters are and what they want during the show. It really is hard to separate what comes first - it's the classic chicken or the egg.
Did you know a kind of Missy, Suzy, Cindy Lou and Betty Jean yourself?
Some of my friends laugh because they know that all of these characters are a different part of me. Everyone wants to know which character I'm more like - and I think I have a little bit of each one inside me. (I'm more like one than any other - but my lips are sealed!) I do think that there is a bit of each of these girls in just about every group of friends. When I stand outside of the show in New York and I listen to audiences leaving, there are always a couple of groups of ladies talking about which girl they were like in high school, who was the clown, who was the bully, who was uptight, who was silly and giddy - it's really fun to watch and listen to everyone go down memory lane like that.
Webster's dictionary recently included 100 new words in their latest dictionary, "frenemy" being one of them ("two or more people who are outwardly friends but in reality enemies"). Would "frenemies" be apropos to describing Betty Jean and Cindy Lou's relationship?
I've never really thought of them like that. I do think Cindy Lou and Betty Jean are truly friends. I certainly have friends who frustrate me to no end, as I'm sure I frustrate the hell out of them right! I think that when you love and care for someone that much, you can get irritated when that friend doesn't behave how you want them to, and things don't go exactly as you planned. And that's part of the wonderful give and take of friendship that this story delves into.
Did you go to your prom? Who was the prom queen? Did she deserve to win?
I have absolutely no idea who was my prom queen. I was not very involved in things like that in high school - much to everyone's surprise, I'm sure. I did go to my prom with a friend whom I recently reconnected with. We dressed up as a nun and a monk. It wasn't a costume prom. We just thought it would be fun - so you can just imagine the looks we got from everyone in their powder-blue tuxedos and frilly gingham prom dresses. The chaperone and teachers thought it was a hoot - because we didn't take the whole thing too seriously. And anyone who knows me well knows that I hardly ever take anything too seriously. Look what I do for a living for goodness sake - I make things up and play act them out onstage. So it seems incredibly appropriate that I went to my prom dressed as a monk.
What do Missy, Suzy, Cindy Lou and Betty Jean show us about friendship?
These girls show us that friendship will always win out. It's one of the strongest bonds we can make in life. Even if you don't talk or see each other for a few years, you can always jump right back in, someone can say "I'm sorry" for something silly that nobody really remembers anymore, and things can just keep moving ahead like you never left each other. I think forgiveness is a powerful and beautiful thing, and true friends will always forgive, no matter what.
What's next for you? Any other exciting projects under development?
We just opened my newest show Life Could Be A Dream at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood. It also takes place in Springfield, USA (home of the Wonderettes), and it's kind of a companion piece for the boys with doo-wop of the late 50s and early 60s. It's going very well, and we're already looking for our theatre in New York. After I open The Marvelous Wonderettes here in Chicago, I head back to the Laguna Playhouse to direct Winter Wonderettes, which is a holiday sequel of sorts, where we pick up with our four girls about 9 months after The Marvelous Wonderettes. So yes, I'm continuing dig deep into the same well for some of my newest shows - but audiences just seem to enjoy them so much, and I certainly love to give them what they want!
In the late 1950s, a number of female vocal groups began to produce songs that mixed doo-wop harmonies with rhythm and blues music. The groups were usually trios or quartets in which one vocalist sang a lead part while the others contributed a background vocal. This arrangement became known as the "girl group" sound, and it flourished during the early 1960s. Girl groups were a constant presence on the Billboard pop charts in 1962 to 1965, but by 1965 the popularity of this sound was waning as it was eclipsed by other musical trends, mainly the British Invasion. Although girl groups were only successful for a short time, their sound influenced many of their musical contemporaries, and it continues to have an impact on performers today.
The girl group era represents an important part of the early days of rock and roll as well as the history of women in popular music. The emergence of the girl groups marked a turning point for women in rock and roll, for it established a specific style of performing that listeners associated with women. The girl group sound was the result of a collaborative effort that involved producers, songwriters, instrumentalists, and manager, in addition to the women who sang the songs. Each of these persons, particularly, the producer, were significant in determining a particular group's success or failure.
Some rock historians would argue because of their lack of autonomy, the girl groups were largely interchangeable and would not have succeeded without the guidance of others. This assessment overlooks the facts that the performers who made up the girl groups were generally very young, most were in their teens and early twenties, which put them at a great disadvantage in terms of artistic control. Female artists were rarely taken seriously by those who ran the music industry in the fifties and sixties; girl groups were undoubtedly viewed simply as vehicles for hit songs rather than creative, talented individuals.
Most of the teen magazines and television variety shows that helped publicized male performers virtually ignored the girl groups, limiting the amount of exposure that they could achieve. Most of the best-known girl groups were black, which often time limited their success. Because media coverage of the groups was minimal, the artists had to rely solely upon the songs to maintain their popularity. If a producer insisted that a girl group record songs resembling the tune that had been their initial success, the public would predictably soon grow tired of the group. And once the public's interest waned, the producer would abandon the group and move on to another project; this abandonment usually signaled the end of the group's career.
Since most groups lacked an image that could be connected with their music, audiences often received little or no information about the individuals who made up the particular group. Girl group artists were generally identified by their group name alone, and the membership of any given group often changed from one record to the next. Producers occasionally used unnamed session or backup vocalists to sing under the name of a successful group, and some groups recorded under more than one name. When the girl group era more or less came to an end in the mid 60s, most of the artists who were still actively pursuing musical careers faded into obscurity. Although a number of groups continued to perform in following decades, often singing in oldies revival shows, their whereabouts are largely unknown.
Excerpt from The History of Rock 'n Roll: www.history-of-rock.com/g_g-history.htm
|Cat Davis (Suzy) Chicago area appearances include: High School Musical (Marriott Theatre), Much Ado Bout Nothin' and How Can You Run with a Shell On Your Back? (Chicago Shakespeare Theatre), Bernarda Alba: The Musical (Boho Rep), Mystery of Edwin Drood (Noble Fool), Mack and Mabel (Circle Theatre - Jeff Citation Award, Actress in a Principal Role), and Kama Sutra: The Musical (Royal George).|
||Suzy Simpson is proud to be going steady - three years and counting ("I love you, Richie!"), and was just pinned last month. She is a proud member and assistant choreographer of the Varsity Song Leaders (Go Chipmunks!), cub reporter for The Chipmunk Chronicle (where she exposed last year's lunch room milk scandal), and president of the A.V. Club Appreciation Society. She's very good with scissors and glue and helped Missy Miller put together all of the decorations and banners for the upcoming prom.
|Dina DiCostanzo (Cindy Lou) has been seen on stage in and around Chicago as Maria Elena in Buddy:The Buddy Holly Story, The Mistress in Evita, and Miss Benson in Of Thee I Sing (Drury Lane Oakbrook); Buddy:The Buddy Holly Story and Flaemmchen in Grand Hotel (Jeff Nomination-Drury Lane Water Tower); Janet in Rocky Horror Show Live! (Mercury Theatre); Brooke in Water Coolers (Lakeshore Theatre); Jemima/Jennyanydots in Cats, Frenchy in Grease, and Mary Kenney in Do Black Patent Leather...(Theatre At The Center); and God and Country (Victory Gardens).|
|Cindy Lou Huffington is proud to be the prettiest girl at Springfield High School. Accomplishments: Longest-serving member of the Varsity Song Leaders (Voted All-State Miss Congeniality, three years running), president of the drama boosters, student editor of the school newspaper The Chipmunk Chronicle, vice president of the yearbook committee. She loves dancing, cheering, singing, drive-in movies, and boys (not in that order).
|Laura Taylor (Missy) has appeared in national tours of Beauty and the Beast, Oklahoma! and Clifford, LIVE! Local credits include The Producers (Theatre at the Center); Sweet Charity (Drury Lane Oakbrook); and Nunsense, The Producers and Thoroughly Modern Millie (Marriott Theatre). Laura appeared in the Kennedy Center production of Mame and in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular.
|Missy Miller is proud to serve as the head of this year's prom decorations committee. She is the Choreographer of the Varsity Song Leaders, leader of the PTA-Student Friendship committee, founder of the "Chipmunks For A Better America" Highway Beautification Committee, T.A. for Mr. Lee's 4th Period Choir Class, and winner of this year's Home Ec Sewing Bee. Missy will also be making most of the refreshments for the prom. She's honored and just a bit nervous to be nominated for prom queen along with all of her best friends, the Wonderettes.
|Tempe Thomas (Betty Jean) last appeared at Northlight as Little Edie in Grey Gardens. Favorite roles include Marty in Grease and Estelle in Full Monty (Marriott Theatre), Maria Elena in The Buddy Holly Story (Drury Lane Oakbrook and Water Tower), Percy in Spitfire Grill (Provision Theatre), and Brooke in Water Coolers (Lakeshore Theatre, Riverfront Theatre). She has toured with Classical Kids Live and appeared in the New York Music Theatre Festival production of River's End (TAM Award Winner).|
|Betty Jean Reynolds is proud to have a date for the prom, and she can't believe that Johnny finally got the nerve to ask her. Accomplishments: Member of the Varsity Song Leaders (where she won "Loudest Cheer" at State Championships), all-time high-score on the Chipmunk Bowling Squad ("255 - only 45 more to go!"), member of the Varsity Lady Golfers, loves watching & cheering for the Chipmunk Wrestlers, the Chipmunk Boating Club, the Chipmunk Soccer Shooters, and well, she's just an all-around proud athletic supporter.
Roger Bean (Writer/Director) created and directed the original Milwaukee Rep, Laguna Playhouse, Los Angeles and New York productions of The Marvelous Wonderettes. Mr. Bean received two Los Angeles Ovation Award nominations for Best Director of a Musical for both The Marvelous Wonderettes and Winter Wonderettes, and The Marvelous Wonderettes received the 2007 Los Angeles Ovation Award for Best Musical. In New York City The Marvelous Wonderettes received a 2009 Drama League award nomination for Distinguished Production of a Musical as well as a Broadway.com Audience Award nomination for Favorite New Off-Broadway Musical. Other musicals and revues created by Mr. Bean, commissioned and premiered at Milwaukee Repertory Theater, include The Andrews Brothers (Musical Theatre West, Fullerton CLO, Cabaret Oldtown, Cabrillo Music Theatre); Route 66 (Oregon Cabaret Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Moonlight Avo Playhouse, Oregon Cabaret, Art Station Theatre); Why Do Fools Fall In Love? (Rocky Mountain Repertory, Venice Little Theatre); Life Could Be A Dream (Majestic Theatre, Texas Family Musicals); and the holiday sequel to this show: Winter Wonderettes (Delaware Theatre Company, Laguna Playhouse, Water Tower Theatre, Great Plains Theatre Festival, El Portal Theatre). Mr. Bean has had the great pleasure of directing for the Delaware Theatre Co., Laguna Playhouse, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Milwaukee Rep, Madison Rep, Florida Studio, Oregon Cabaret, Skylight Opera, and numerous stages in-between. Visit www.rogerbean.com or www.steelespring.com for more about Mr. Bean and his other musicals.
All photos by Michael Brosilow.
Photo GalleryClick on any image to start the slideshow
REVIEW: The New York Times
By Andy Webster
Published: September 17, 2008
(New York production)
At the 1958 senior prom at Springfield High School ("Go, Chipmunks!"), the entertainment is supposed to be the Crooning Crab Cakes, from the glee club, but that group can't make it because its leader has been suspended for smoking near the girls' locker room. The boys are replaced by four singers in crinolines, the Marvelous Wonderettes: the earnest, bespectacled Missy (Farah Alvin); the spry, tomboyish Betty Jean (Beth Malone); the radiant, vain Cindy Lou (Victoria Matlock); and the slightly ditsy Suzy (Bets Malone, not related to Beth). It's just our luck that they step in, because their show is one irresistible jukebox musical.
In "The Marvelous Wonderettes," at the Westside Theater, the title characters have an act to perform (with songs like "Stupid Cupid" and "Mr. Sandman"), but they have private preoccupations too: Betty Jean and Cindy Lou are best frenemies, vying over a boy. While Cindy Lou preens and expects to be prom queen, Betty Jean, a master of mugging, constantly pulls pranks to puncture her ego. Suzy is besotted with Ritchie, the prom's lighting guy, and Missy has a crush on Mr. Lee, a teacher. Missy and Suzy may be the less glamorous ones, but when their big numbers arrive, their voices prove the most powerful.
Written and directed by Roger Bean - whose pop-hit packages for the stage include "Why Do Fools Fall in Love?" and "The Andrews Brothers" - "Wonderettes" presents a procession of tunes hewing to a female perspective, but of two eras.
The second act takes place at the 10-year reunion, and the singers, in miniskirts and go-go boots, have seen revolutions and evolutions. Cindy Lou, for one, has returned home chastened after a stint in Hollywood. Suzy, pregnant, confronts Ritchie in a rousing medley of "Rescue Me" and "Respect." The songs sidestep the era's psychedelic excesses, focusing on the spine and soul of, say, Laura Nyro's "Wedding Bell Blues" and Dusty Springfield's classic "Son of a Preacher Man."
Over all, Michael Carnahan's sets convey a wholesome '50s and electric '60s, as do Bobby Pearce's costumes. The production enjoyed a long run in Los Angeles, and with good reason. For a certain generation - and all fanciers of the girl-group sound - this is an utter charm bomb.
By Andy Propst
September 15, 2008
(New York production)
There's a really good time to be had at The Marvelous Wonderettes, an infectiously charming homage to the music of the 1950s and 1960s, now making its New York debut at the Westside Theatre, buoyed by the talents of four marvelous women under the savvy direction of Roger Bean.
The show's setting is the gymnasium at Springfield High School (brought to life with an eye for detail and some swell crepe-paper decorations by Michael Carnahan) where four female students are providing the entertainment for their senior prom after "The Crooning Crabcakes," some members of the boys glee club, were barred from appearing because of a smoking infraction by their leader. The girls -- known as "The Marvelous Wonderettes" -- are naturally nervous: they're not only singing at the last minute, they're also all hoping to be voted prom queen.
As the girls entertain -- looking lovely in their luscious taffeta and crinoline confections (courtesy of costume designer Bobby Pearce) that sensible Missy (Farah Alvin) has made for them -- it's difficult for them to always stay focused on the choreography (devised with smartness by Janet Miller). For one thing, there's palpable tension between the statuesque and exceptionally popular Cindy Lou (Victoria Matlock) and tomboy B.J. (Beth Malone). Meanwhile, ditzy Suzy (the similarly named Bets Malone) is aware of some of the friction that exists between her singing chums, but she also manages to remain blissfully oblivious: she's just thrilled every time her guy Richie (who's running the lights) signals his affection for her with blackouts.
The girls' stories -- and their antagonism -- provide a terrifically whimsical backdrop for the real entertainment here: the nearly three dozen tunes culled from the mid-century pop charts. While their early renditions of "Lollipop" and "Mr. Sandman" delight, as things get hairier for the quartet, they group blend together in slightly more emotional ways.
Fortunately, Wonderettes isn't limited to the tight harmonies of girl-group singing. Each actress has more than ample opportunity to shine as a solo performer. Alvin delivers a rendition of "Secret Love" that starts off tentatively but ends powerfully and potently, and her take on "You Don't Own Me" in the second act -- which takes place at the girl's 10th reunion -- reveals the hidden strength behind her otherwise milquetoast façade. Beth Malone starts "It's My Party" with a "Shucks, I can't believe I'm singing this" irony, but ends the classic tearfully, an indication of this tough girl's vulnerability. Although she may talk with a voice that brings to mind one of the Chipmunks -- and she may seem more like a junior high student as she jumps off the risers and sticks her chewing gum on the microphone before singing -- Bets Malone's Suzy is a surprisingly adult creation -- which is proven beyond a doubt when she delivers "Respect" with electrifying gusto. Matlock's take on "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Leader of the Pack" display not only her versatility as a singer, but also reveal the depth of the character's bad-girl side.
Still, even as the girls' stories become more serious in the second half of the show, its light-hearted spirit never fully wanes, and audiences leave beaming -- and humming.