Lighthearted Cap Rep musical features songs of ’50s, ’60s

Courtney Balan doesn’t actually remember the 1950s and ’60s, but she knows wonderful music when she
"The Marvelous Wonderettes" at Capital Repertory Theatre features, from left, Dina DiCostanzo as Cindy Lou, Tempe Thomas as Betty Jean, Courtney Balan as Missy and Catherine Davis as Suzy.
"The Marvelous Wonderettes" at Capital Repertory Theatre features, from left, Dina DiCostanzo as Cindy Lou, Tempe Thomas as Betty Jean, Courtney Balan as Missy and Catherine Davis as Suzy.

Courtney Balan doesn’t actually remember the 1950s and ’60s, but she knows wonderful music when she hears it.

A New Jersey native and now a working actor in New York City, Balan will make her first appearance in the Albany area when the Capital Repertory Theatre hosts Roger Bean’s off-Broadway smash “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” Performances begin Friday night with previews. The show opens next Wednesday night, and runs through June 20.

“Musically, those two decades are two of my favorites, so this show is really a lot of fun,” said Balan, who has three Broadway credits to go along with her extensive regional theater resume. “The play’s about a bunch of girls having a great time, and I really enjoy playing this goofy character I get to play. It’s one of those experiences where I get to sing and get to be funny and crazy.”

The musical score includes “Dream Lover,” “Lipstick on Your Collar” and “It’s In His Kiss” to name a few. While some of the music wasn’t actually recorded until the 1960s, the story is set in 1958 at Springfield High School, and centers on a group of girlfriends who become the entertainment for a senior dance after the all-boys band has been kicked out of school.

Mom’s inspiration

The inspiration for Bean’s play comes from his mother. “When I was growing up in Seattle, there was always music around the house, and I can remember that my mother would always be singing along to it,” said Bean, who got his master’s degree in theater from Wayne State University in Detroit.

‘The Marvelous Wonderettes’

WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 North Pearl, Albany

WHEN: Pay-what-you-will performance 7:30 p.m. tonight; previews Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Tuesday; opens Wednesday and runs through June 20. Show times are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: $46-$36


“The funny thing was she wouldn’t sing the melody. She sang the harmony, and I always found that fascinating. One day she brought out her high-school yearbook, and while she wasn’t a cheerleader, she was a song leader. They would lead the crowd in singing songs at basketball games, and I just thought that was very interesting.”

So, when Bean had the opportunity to write and direct a play for the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, he remembered his mother’s story and used that to get started writing “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” The play opened in 1998 in Milwaukee and soon made its way to Chicago and other regional theaters around the country, including Los Angeles, where Bean earned the Ovation Award for Best Musical — Intimate Theatre. The show ran a record 18 months at the El Portal Theatre in Hollywood and finally reached off-Broadway in 2008, where its two-year run recently concluded.

Related story

For Gazette theater writer Carol King’s review of this show, click here.

“Getting something to New York was wonderful, and I was very happy about it and very pleased with the production,” said Bean, who ,along with good friends Janet Miller (choreography) and Brian Baker (musical direction), continued to oversee the mounting of the play. “Now, this year, we’re going to have 30 different productions up and running around the country, so we’re thrilled about that.”

Bean has had the opportunity to see his play produced on a number of occasions without his supervision.

“I saw one in Cincinnati that I actually had nothing to do with at all, and it was kind of exciting to see your work from somebody else’s perspective,” said Bean. “It was different in some ways, but the people still ate it up. I don’t get angry or mad if I see a director doing it differently. It’s neat to see somebody else’s take on your work.”

Main characters

There are four main characters in the show, and Balan plays Missy, a role she has performed in the off-Broadway production. Catherine Davis (Suzy), Dina DiCostanzo (Cindy Lou) and Tempe Thomas (Betty Jean) are all veterans from the show’s successful Chicago run.

“These girls have all performed the show before, and it’s been great marrying the three girls from Chicago together with Courtney, who did it in New York,” said Bean.

“They’ve really come together well as a cast, and this show is really about friendship. It’s a universal story that everyone gets. We’ve all been in high school before, and the young people who haven’t seem to eat it up as well. It’s fascinating to look out in the audience and see these young girls looking up at the performers in awe. So I think the show is for all age groups.”

Balan joined the New York production already in progress, so she was happy to help mount a new production right from the beginning.

“In New York, the show was already up and running so I really didn’t get a chance to work with Roger and Janet and Brian,” said Balan, who got her degree in theater from the University of Michigan. “This was my first opportunity to really create from the ground up with them, and it’s been really exciting for me. It’s been a great experience.”

Bean said not all of the songs in the show will be familiar to the audiences.

“I think if the songs were hits all the time, that would get a little boring,” he said. “Every once in a while there’s a tune that you probably haven’t heard before, and I’ve had many people come up to me after the show and remark how their favorite song was the one they didn’t know.”

Greg Brown (keyboard), Gary Burke (drums) and David Malachowski (lead guitar) will provide the music.

Part of the action

“We have chosen a light-hearted show that will make audiences from 8 to 80 smile,” said Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill, producing artistic director at Capital Rep. “With the furthest seat being only 30 feet away, our audiences feel like part of the production and will enjoy being so close to seasoned professionals, like the young women in the cast.”

Bean, who started working professionally at the Utah Shakespeare Festival before moving to Milwaukee, has another musical he’s getting ready to mount.

“It’s kind of a boys’ version of the same story, and I’m hoping that will also make its way to New York,” he said. “It takes place in the same town as the ‘Wonderettes.’ Originally I was happy just directing, but I soon realized I had this great desire to be in complete charge of things, and that’s why I also started writing. I love creating these whole new worlds.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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