This holiday season, Farmers Alley Theatre’s giving a big gift to fans of music from the ’60s and ’70s.
Under the direction of Sandra Bremer, the theater’s director of education and theater for young audiences, a cast of four women will transport audiences from 1969 to 1978 in two acts and 27 different musical numbers in Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On.
The first act, set in 1969, finds the quartet performing at a retirement party for one of their teachers and the second act is set in 1978 at the women’s 20th class reunion.
Bremer calls the production the “bubblegum” or “cotton candy” version of Sex in the City, in that many subjects are discussed, but sex is not one of them.
“It starts off with the retirement for this teacher and as the show goes on, different aspects of their friendship and personalities come through and what’s happening in their lives starts to weave throughout the storyline,” Bremer said. “It’s really about their friendship and what happens to all of us as we grow and get older and things change.”
The musical selections in the show reflect the time period the women are in and what is happening in their lives. The actors sing in four-part harmony throughout the whole show under the direction of Jeremiah Downes.
Songs include Gimme Some Lovin’, It’s Your Thing, We Are Family and I Will Survive.
Bremer said the show is described as a “jukebox musical” because there is very little actual dialog. In addition to the songs, the actors had to master the choreography that is so much a part of the production and shows the way people danced in the ’60s and ’70s.
Although working with four new actors was a challenge, Bremer is very familiar with the musical, having directed it eight years ago. The following year, she directed a sequel called The Winter Wonderettes. The learning curve for the second production was not as steep, because the same cast performed in each one.
“The first time I did this, I was taking these four women who had never worked together before, putting them together as an ensemble and putting them through the grueling process of getting all of this information,” Bremer said.
“It was very popular eight years ago when we did it. You can relate to these women. You can see yourself or someone else you know in these women.”
Of that original cast, Denene Mulay Koch, one of the founders of Farmer’s Alley, has become more involved in directing, while one actress is performing on Broadway in Frozen, another is living on the west coast and just became a mom, and one is working in Pittsburgh as a professional actor. Despite moving on and up, Bremer said when they learned of the show’s reprisal at Farmer’s Alley, they all wished they were coming back to be a part of it.
The December production features Whitney Weiner, the wife of Robert Weiner, another Farmer’s Alley founder; Mallory King, a graduate of Western Michigan University’s theatre program, who lives and performs in New York City; Missy Karle, who was in a Farmer’s Alley production of It Shoulda Been You; and Julia Burrows, a professional actor who also lives in New York City and will be performing at Farmer’s Alley for the first time.
“This is a real diverse group of women. I’m really excited to put them all together and to see them work as an ensemble,” Bremer said. “It’s always fun to see what the actors are going to bring. It’s a real collaborative effort.”
While she doesn’t know exactly how many women auditioned for the four parts available, Bremer said it was “a lot.” Some of these auditions were done in person and others were done via video submissions.
“We are always looking for a certain type and sound,” she said.
Where it used to be common to have actors who acted, singers who sang and dancers who danced, Bremer, who was a professional actor for about 30 years, said this is no longer the case.
“You’ve got to be a triple threat anymore in this wonderful world of performing,” she said. “I may not look for someone who’s the best singer in whole wide world, but they better be able to act.
“This (show) is a piece of fluff and it’s my job as the director and those four women to take you out of the stuff happening in world for two hours. Our responsibility is to take you someplace you’ve never been before.”
The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On
Farmers Alley Theatre
221 Farmers Alley, Kalamazoo
Dec. 7-30, $39