“Do you want to know a secret?” I’m glad I didn’t “walk on by” the Raue Center Friday when Williams Street Repertory Company’s premiere of “Suds: The Rockin’ 60’s Musical Soap Opera” had its opening night. It might not be “the end of the world” if I missed it, but coming out of the show, I knew I’d seen something “wonderful, wonderful” and “I feel good” telling you about it here.
If you’re a child of the ’50s or ’60s, or just enjoy pop music that truly qualifies to be played on an oldies station, you likely recognized in the previous paragraph five of the dozens of songs performed in their entirety or in part in this charming, laugh-filled, heartfelt, fun musical. Director/choreographer Mark Mahallak and musical director Linda Madonia have taken a quartet of gifted performers, a talented live band, a script that pops with nostalgic references and song lyrics (whether sung or just spoken), and a bright pink, bubble-filled laundromat set and created two hours of solid entertainment.
With some jukebox musicals, such as “Shout! The Mod Musical” presented last fall by Woodstock Musical Theatre Company, the storyline is fairly minimal. Others, such as “Jersey Boys” and “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,” have focused on the music and life stories of pop stars, giving you insights into their struggles and successes on the way to stardom. “Suds” takes the middle road, with its creators focusing on pop music of a decade – not of an individual performer or group – and tying it all together with a cute storyline about “Cindy,” a laundromat worker who’s about to have a very unusual birthday.
Cindy is played by the endearing, expressive and hilarious Amanda Flahive, a frequent cast member in dramatic and comedic shows at the Raue. Within 10 minutes of opening the laundromat for the day, and interspersed during a rendition of “Please Mr. Postman,” she receives some very bad news, capped by a “Dear John” – er, “Dear Cindy” – letter, in which she’s dumped by her pen pal boyfriend for someone who has better penmanship. Cindy tries unsuccessfully to say goodbye to her unhappy life just as Marge (Kim Shriver) and Dee Dee (Amy Ferraro) arrive with their laundry and perform “The Locomotion” accompanied by some very loco movements by Cindy. It turns out that Marge and Dee Dee are guardian angels in disguise who were – unbeknownst to them – both given the same assignment: Cindy.
Shriver is making her Williams Street debut, but as an Actor’s Equity member with Broadway, off-Broadway and even Rockette experience, she plays long-time guardian angel Marge with all the moxie and vocal skills of a pro, one who initially has little patience with Dee Dee, on her first assignment. Ferraro, another Actor’s Equity member and an original member of Williams Street last seen in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” plays a character who might not know what “backseat bingo” is, but who does her best to help Cindy see that better times are just around the corner. Ferraro takes what could be a stereotype of an innocent, Sandra Dee-like character and turns in a fun, well-rounded performance, with Dee Dee having just as momentous a day as Cindy by the end.
The final member of the cast, another Williams Street veteran, is the versatile Christopher Davis, who plays every male character in the show (mailman, washing machine repairman, etc.) and even one height-challenged female character. Each appearance by Davis guarantees a chuckle in the show, thanks to the actor’s expressions, line interpretations and gift for physical comedy.
Costume designer Patty Halajian’s initial outfits for Marge (leopard-print top, skintight gold pants) and Dee Dee (dainty white dress with splashes of yellow) do a great job of helping the audience understand these characters. When a variety of unusual costume pieces are used to prep the three women for a birthday party, the end result is one of the many visual sight gags in the show. One costume piece that took me out of the show briefly was a jacket for a Chicago-based restaurant; up until then, I believed we were in a non-specific city, possibly near New Jersey.
The set itself, including some very sturdy “washers,” works well – the one exception is a large clock that shows time standing still at 8 p.m. Since the end of the day is clearly referenced late in the show, some advancement of time or the removal of the clock might have been appropriate.
Is this a show only those of a certain age will enjoy? Not at all. Audience members ranged from single-digit ages to those who’ve been AARP members for quite a while – and everything in between – and all were brought to their feet by the time the encore was performed. With the show’s combination of well-balanced harmonies, physical and verbal comedy and characters you find yourself laughing at and caring about, “Suds” will leave you awash with good memories.
• Paul Lockwood is the past president of TownSquare Players, the current publicity chair and a frequent community theater actor, appearing most recently in the one-act play “Dr. Seuss, M.D.” and in last fall’s comedy “The Nerd,” both at the Woodstock Opera House.