By Mark Blankenship
Lowe Taylor has been to so many senior proms, you’d think she went to every high school on earth.
But really, she’s just the biggest trouper in The Marvelous Wonderettes, the long-running musical about a girl group that performs at their high school prom in 1958 and then reunites for their ten-year class reunion. As they moon over boyfriends, bicker over solos, and eventually reflect on their adult lives, the Wonderettes sing dozens of beloved songs, from taffeta classics like “Mr. Sandman” and “Teacher’s Pet” to soul staples like “Respect” and “Wedding Bell Blues.”
Taylor is the only one who’s sung them all. She recently joined the Off Broadway cast as Suzy, the lovable ditz, but when the show began its two-year Los Angeles run in 2006, she understudied (or “covered”) all four roles. On some nights she was called to play Suzy, but on others it was nerdy Missy, sultry Cindy Lou, or tomboyish Betty Jean. That not only meant memorizing the entire script, but also learning four vocal parts for over thirty songs.
“That was the experience that has made me grow the most as a musician,” she says. ‘I had to learn it all so quickly, and I’d never had to learn that much music in any show. But it’s interesting because I’m sort of a math nerd, and it starts to become a math equation. Once I learned all four parts, it made it easier. You get that puzzle in your mind, and it becomes much easier.”
Taylor also learned to inhabit a character at a moment’s notice. Once during the L.A. run, she was getting ready to go on as Suzy, but another cast member got ill an hour before the show, so she played Missy instead. “It was like actor’s playtime because all the characters are so different,” she says. “Every time I would go on, someone would ask me what my favorite part to play was, and it was always the last one I did because they each have fun things to bring to the table.”
Still, filling in for other people is only rewarding for so long. Taylor was offered the chance to cover Off Broadway, but she declined, saying she couldn’t leave her work and her boyfriend in Los Angeles. “I just couldn’t give up all those things to cover a show I had already covered for two-plus years,” she says. “I had grown as much as I could, so I told them I wanted a promotion.”
Taylor was officially cast as Suzy for a Wonderettes production at the Laguna Playhouse in California, and then a few months ago, she was offered the same part in the successful Off Broadway run, which will celebrate its 500th performance on November 25 and close on January 3.
“I’ve been loving this because I really get to make Suzy my own,” Taylor says, adding that she’s playing her as “sweet and fun and really naïve” instead of just dumb.
But does the show feel different than it did in California?
“Absolutely,” Taylor says. “When you get a different group of girls together, there’s always discovery happening, and these girls are different than any other girls I’ve ever done the show with. Honestly, this is the first time where I’ve felt, ‘These four girls are friends.’”
She continues, “There are a lot of times where Suzy and Missy feel like friends, and Cindy Jean and Betty Lou feel like friends, and it’s two and two. But we’re finding moments where the four of them behave like a close unit.”
Still, some things stay the same, no matter where Taylor performs. “In my experience, there are some moments you can count on,” she says. “You can count on nostalgic moments where contingents of the audience just sigh because they remember when they were there. When the lights come up and you see the girls in their sixties wear, or when you see the girls talking about those classic high school things, people just love it.”
Mark Blankenship is TDF’s online content editor