Bets Malone, original star of ‘The Marvelous Wonderettes,’ directs new production at Welk

Director Bets Malone, back row at right, with the cast of the Theatre at Welk's "The Marvelous Wonderettes."
Director Bets Malone, back row at right, with the cast of the Theatre at Welk’s “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” Front row from left: Chelsea Franko, Ariella Kvashny, Alessa Neek and Megan Carmitchel. Back row at left is show “Wonderstudy” Bryce Hamilton.
(Courtesy of David Engel)
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After a pandemic hiatus, the Theatre at the Welk in Escondido is launching its first full season of musicals on Jan. 28.

Two years ago, the now-59-year-old Lawrence Welk Resort was purchased by Marriott Vacations Worldwide and rebranded as The Welk, a Hyatt residence club property. Although the 339-seat theater has remained in operation at the time-share resort, the pre-show dinner option is no longer offered with show tickets.

The first musical presented at The Welk since 2020 was “Nunsense,” last fall. The 2023 season includes: “The Marvelous Wonderettes” Jan. 28- March 26; “The Bodyguard: The Musical,” April 15-June 11; “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” Sept. 9-Oct. 29; and “Elf, the Musical,” Nov. 18-Dec. 24.

“We’re very excited to bring back live musical theater to The Welk after being dark for two years due to the pandemic,” said producer Sean Coogan. “Theatre at The Welk has a long history, since 1981, producing live musical theater that has been an integral part of what makes our resort so unique and special. Our 2023 musical season has something for everyone.”

Kicking things off is Roger Bean’s all-female 1950s-'60s jukebox musical “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” Bean is best known for his similar all-male ‘50s-'60s jukebox musical “Forever Plaid.” Set in 1958, “The Marvelous Wonderettes” is about four high school song leaders — Suzy, Missy, Betty Jean and Cindy Lou — who comically provide the musical entertainment at their high school prom at the last minute when the men’s glee club gets suspended. In the musical’s second act, the Wonderettes reunite to perform at their high school’s 10-year reunion.

The Welk production co-stars Chelsea Franko, Ariella Kvashny, Alessa Neek and Megan Carmitchel as the Wonderettes. Bryce Hamilton is the cast’s “wonderstudy.”

The cast of "The Marvelous Wonderettes" rehearse at the Theatre at the Welk in Escondido.
The cast of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” rehearse at The Theatre at the Welk in Escondido. They are, from left, Chelsea Franko, Ariella Kvashny, Alessa Neek and Megan Carmitchel.
(Courtesy of David Engel)

Directing the Welk production is Vista-based actor-director Bets Malone, who grew up on Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre stage and has been married for 28 years to Steven Glaudini, who has served as producing artistic director at Moonlight since 2012.

Malone originated the role of Suzy in the original 1999 production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” at Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. She also co-starred in its 2006 Los Angeles production and its 2008 off Broadway premiere. She spoke about her experience last week.

Q: Tell me about your journey with “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” I read that it began when you received an e-mail from Roger Bean, who you’ve had a long and fruitful working relationship with.

A: Yes, that e-mail changed my life. I had met Roger Bean at Southern Utah State. He was my musical theater teacher and we stayed close ever since. When I got the first offer I thought … Milwaukee? But the Milwaukee Repertory became a home to me. I did five contracts with them, all Roger Bean projects. There have been such highs and lows on the journey to get this show to New York City. It’s a miracle that anything makes it there at all. We opened the same week the stock market crashed, two-thirds of the shows on Broadway closed that month and ours, set exactly 50 years earlier, was a bright light in a very dark time. You couldn’t get a ticket. People just wanted to be reminded of what we perceive as a happier time. It’s been such a huge part of my life. I’ve been married for 28 years … 24 of those years I was also at the prom!

Q: What do you love most about “The Marvelous Wonderettes”?

A: The music. I grew up harmonizing with my siblings, so I was familiar with a lot of these songs and was thrilled to get the chance to bring them to life.

Q: How does “Wonderettes” speak to audiences today?

A: Well, I think it reminds them of simpler times. Nostalgia is a powerful medicine and this show is a hallmark to the period. Not a spoof, but a love letter, so I think that makes all the difference.

Q: Have you ever directed “Wonderettes” before?

A: Yes. I was the resident director once we opened off Broadway, as our artistic staff was all on the West Coast. I taught all the “Wonderstudies” and then put the replacement cast into the show. After that, when “Wonderettes” was playing cities all over the country, Roger would send me out ahead of time. I’d get the show up and he’d arrive for tech. We’re lucky this time around, as well, because Roger plans to visit at some point.

Q: Because of your history with the show, what insights do you impart to the cast about the heart and soul of this show?

A: I have a unique view of all these girls because I have shared the show with so many talented and vastly different ladies. First and foremost, what’s most important is the power of female bonds and friendship. At the end of the day, “Wonderettes” is about love and friendship and team effort. To do this show well, the whole cast has to support each other every step of the way. That’s already happening and I’ve already been so moved by this amazing group.

Q: Anything else you’d like audiences to know?

A: Historically. “The Marvelous Wonderettes” has had quite a following. People come and have such a great time they call a few friends and they come again. So I would say, come see us early in the run so you have time to plan your next visit to the prom.

“The Marvelous Wonderettes” will be presented at 1 and 7 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. Sundays, Jan. 28 through March 26, at 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido. Tickets are $62. Visit tickets.thewelksandiego.com

Kragen writes about theater for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at pam.kragen@sduniontribune.com.


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