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‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’ return to Tidewater Players in ‘Dream On’ in Havre de Grace

Pictured left to right, Emily Elborn, Natalie Knox, Stephanie Mahoney and Sarah Sickels reprise their respective roles as Betty Jean, Cindy Loui, Missy and Suzy -- The Marvelous Wonderettes -- in the upcoming Tidewater Players' presentation of “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On,” playing from Feb. 28 through March 8 at the Cultural Center at the Opera House in Havre de Grace.
Pictured left to right, Emily Elborn, Natalie Knox, Stephanie Mahoney and Sarah Sickels reprise their respective roles as Betty Jean, Cindy Loui, Missy and Suzy -- The Marvelous Wonderettes -- in the upcoming Tidewater Players' presentation of “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On,” playing from Feb. 28 through March 8 at the Cultural Center at the Opera House in Havre de Grace.(Courtesy of the Tidewater Players)

Tidewater Players, Havre de Grace’s resident theater company, is continuing its 40th anniversary season with the return of some old audience favorites, The Marvelous Wonderettes, in “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On,” playing from Feb. 28 through March 8.

The Marvelous Wonderettes are an integral part of Tidewater Players history. When the city closed the Opera House, where Tidewater Players exclusively had performed for over 30 years, for extensive renovation in 2015, the original production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” was mounted as a small touring show to keep Tidewater Players active in the interim. They debuted at the Towson University in Northeast Maryland campus at Harford Community College and played throughout Harford and Baltimore counties to critical acclaim.

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When their former home theater reopened as the Cultural Center at the Opera House in September 2017, Tidewater Players felt it was only appropriate to bring this special show back home to their main audience in Havre de Grace as the inaugural production of the new facility.

Havre de Grace embraced this production for all its charms. The original story, created by Roger Bean, concerned a group of close high school friends and makeshift girl group at their senior prom of Springfield High Class of 1958. There was Missy, the high-strung organizer; Betty Jean, the fun loving wisecracker; Cindy Lou, the class beauty; and Suzi, the peacekeeper.

Filling in for a last minute no-show entertainment, they perform all the smooth doowop sounds of the ’50s like “Dream Lover,” “Sincerely” and their signature song “Mr. Sandman.” When the second act opens at their 10-year reunion, they get together again as strong, determined young women of the ’60s and tell their stories to the music of Connie Francis, Petula Clark, Lesley Gore, Dusty Springfield, and the likes of other strong-visioned women who emerged and took center stage for the decade.

Tidewater audiences fell in love with this charming and clever show that used the soundtrack of two generations as its score and asked Tidewater for more. Fortunately creator Bean anticipated such interest and has created a series of extended adventures for the girls. Tidewater has answered that call and for the Christmas season of 2018, they presented their Christmas special, “The Winter Wonderettes,” which used all the fun Motown, the Ronettes and Darlene Love music from the Phil Spector era as a basis for a holiday reunion extravaganza for the employees of local Harper’s Hardware’s Christmas party, where Betty Jean has been employed since high school.

When looking for shows to fill out their 40th season, Tidewater felt it was mandatory to include the final episode of the Wonderettes saga, “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On.”

Starting a few months after the original musical and the Christmas special end, Dream On starts at the retirement party for their beloved foreign language teacher Mrs. McPherson in 1969, which appears to be the final performance of the group before they all split up to go their separate ways. But never fear, they return for their 20th class reunion and for the first time update us on their lives using the hits of a new decade with the greatest female recording artists of the ’70s, using the music of the likes of Linda Ronstadt, Helen Reddy, Karen Carpenter, The Captain & Tennille, Melissa Manchester, Thelma Houston and Gloria Gaynor.

Making this production even more special is the return of all the original Wonderettes to close out their tales. Having been together from inception to finish has evoked a strong bond between the four very talented women who portray them.

Stephanie Mahoney returns as Missy Miller Lee, the take-charge leader of the group since they were girls who has sewn every costume and designed every decoration over the years. Missy is most famous for having landed the affections of the teacher they all had a crush on in high school, Mr. Lee, famously becoming engaged to him at the end of the 10th year reunion. As for where she ends up, Mahoney says, “Missy is still an overachiever and still wants everything just right, and it sends her into a tizzy when they’re not so.” She also likens Missy’s journey over the years to her own, as they both have undergone many changes in recent years and they have both continued to handle them in their own “crazy, nutso way.”

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Mahoney’s real life sister Natalie Knox is the only other Wonderette to appear in all three incarnations as popular girl Cindy Lou Huffington, who has searched for fortune as a recording artist. We left Cindy Lou at the end of the Christmas special once again pursuing her dreams. Knox describes Cindy Lou as a vivacious woman with a hunger for life and adventure. “She loves to flirt but has a big heart and just wants to find her one true love. She’s been through a lot since high school. She’s traveled, experienced heartbreak and loss (most memorably in the form of her first lost love, Son of a Preacherman Billy Ray Patton in his untimely ‘Leader of the Pack’ style demise at the end of the original production), but through it all remains resilient, sassy, and strong.” She likewise finds many similarities between Cindy Lou’s experiences and her own. Just like Cindy Lou, she feels it’s taken her a long time to find her way, but they both remain hungry for adventure and love.

Emily Elborn returns as Betty Jean Reynolds, the class clown who is rich in friendship but unlucky in love. Through it all, Elborn also finds strong parallels with her character in that Betty Jean learns that happiness comes from within, not from a man. “I’ve gone through a similar personal journey,” she says. “You need to learn to love yourself and find your voice before you can be in a successful relationship.” And Elborn has indeed helped Betty Jean find her voice with one of the most memorable tracks of the series, belting out classic odes to lost love like “It’s My Party,” “Lipstick on Your Collar” and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.”

Final Wonderette Sarah Elizabeth Sickles returns as Suzy Simpson Stevens, the ditzy fun-loving prom queen who married her high school sweetheart (and Wonderettes lighting designer) Ritchie Stevens. Sickles marvels at the changes in Suzy’s life from prom queen to marriage and starting a family (hilariously revealed at the top of the original show’s second act when she makes a delayed morning-sick entrance, 8 months pregnant in a dress constructed from 6-month measurements, giving brand new meaning to her lyrics of “Heatwave”). Sickles says the last 20 years have brought her very similar experiences. “I’m a wife and a working mother and have tried to learn how to balance it all while keeping a smile on my face. Like Suzy, we all sometimes find that smile hard to wear, but we hold on to the hope.” Similarly, Sickels also shares Suzy’s sunny outlook that everything in life will all work out in the end.

Director Dickie Mahoney said he has nothing but wonderful feelings about this show that pays tribute to the soundtrack of now three different decades and three different generations’ music. He discovered the show on a trip to New York in 2009 with a friend, noticing a poster for the then off-Broadway production. When inquiring what it was, his friend described it as “Forever Paid, but with girls and better music.” Intrigued, Mahoney purchased the cast album when it became available and fell in love with the music, the characters, and the message.

When Tidewater was looking for a mobile show to perform in their hiatus from the Opera House, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to mount the show. Mahoney jumped in with great enthusiasm and love for the project and took over all roles — director, choreographer, costume and set designer, and publicity manager — to guarantee that this show would have all the right surroundings to be a hit. And what a hit it was, becoming not only Tidewater Players’ homecoming, but the Cultural Center at the Opera House’s first new production and their first sell-out show.

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“The audiences loved it, because every generation loves the music of the decade they grew up in, and we found that generation who couldn’t get enough of the show," Mahoney said. "They also fell in love with these wonderfully written characters and begged us for more of their stores. Fortunately creator Roger Bean had developed an entire series up through this final farewell production, and we’ve been lucky enough at Tidewater to produce them all with most of the original cast.”

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Mahoney said he is also thrilled to have the quartet of talented actresses who initiated these characters’ journeys on board to bring their stories to a close. Although this is their final performance, Mahoney has a special message for the creator: “Roger Bean, if you ever decide to bring them back for the ’80s, we’re on board here in Havre de Grace!”

“The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” plays Feb. 28 through March 8 at the Cultural Center at the Opera House, 121 N. Union St. in Havre de Grace. Tickets are available at tidewaterplayers.com or in person during business hours at the Opera House and Havre de Grace Visitor’s Center.

The author of this article is the treasurer of the Tidewater Players.

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