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Wonder Women
a Musical
CATEGORY : MUSICAL
by Gregory Becker

COMPANY : Atlanta Musical Theatre Festival [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Brady Street Theater [WEBSITE]
ID# 5311

SHOWING : August 06, 2018 - August 06, 2018

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Wonder Woman was a 1941 creation by William Marston, the inventor of the lie detector.

"Wonder Women," the musical, tells the unknown story of 3 women who lived with Marston in a secret poly-amorous relationship. Their passions for the early feminist agenda, mixed with Marston’s propensity for fetish and kink, created the perfect environment for the birth of a female hero of mythic proportions. Can these 3 women overcome the misogyny, censorship, and sexual taboos of the day to redefine an entire industry? "Wonder Women" explores the hidden truths behind the origin of Wonder Woman.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Jennifer Acker
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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The Lassitude of Truth
by playgoer
Tuesday, August 7, 2018
2.5
Wink, wink, nudge, nudge. A musical about a man obsessed with domination/submission who invented the lie detector and cohabitated with three women who triggered him to create the character of Wonder Woman? Titter, titter, tee-hee. Nashville songwriter Gregory Becker’s "Wonder Women" treats the subject basically for humor, bringing in feminist icon Margaret Sanger (aunt of one of the young women) as an over-the-top comic character.

"Wonder Women" takes on the same subject matter as Carson Kreitzer’s "Lasso of Truth," and like it it attempts to wed the biography of William Marston with a more modern-day story. In this case, the bookending concept is having the aged Sadie Holloway (Marston’s wife) appear to the editorial board of "Ms." magazine, arguing for the inclusion of an image of Wonder Woman on its initial cover. There’s also an unnecessary initial set-up song by three Greek goddesses. In other words, it takes a while for the story itself to get going.

The show is nicely staged by Jennifer Acker with lots more movement than usual for a staged reading, plus some rudimentary choreography. All nine actors are off book for large portions of the show, particularly in the songs. The accompaniment (Will Barrow on keyboard, Matt Mackenzie on bass, and Jennie Hoeft on drums) is thoroughly professional, if a bit loud. All told, this is more a production with books in hand than a mere reading, the point being to give the playwright a more complete view of the producibility of the show in its current state. There’s even a bit of costuming, with clever sunglass/hat/mustache accessories used to represent policemen.

The show is long and not terribly well focused. William Marston is played by Bradley D. Gale as a Boston-accented buffoon, with fresh-faced ingenue Hatty King as his childhood friend and eventual wife Sadie Holloway. She is smarter than he is, but is held back from opportunities by her gender, while he is showered with opportunity due to his patrician lineage. They make a deal to let her be the brains behind his ideas, which gain some acclaim. But his propensity for engaging in masochistic relationships gets him fired from job after job.

Brooke Bucher gives a smiling lewdness to Marjorie Huntley, a dominatrix librarian who becomes Marston’s mistress when he opens his Cherry Hill residence in Rye, New York. But by then he has invited student assistant Olive Byrne, played by the enchanting Briana Middleton, to live with him as well and act as a housekeeper and nanny for the children he and Sadie (and Olive) have. All the women are sexually involved with one another and with Marston. Olive’s aunt Margaret Sanger, played with scene-stealing confidence by Jocelyn Kasper, gives her approval to the living arrangements when she finally visits.

The cast is rounded out by Garris Wimmer as all the male secondary characters and by Regan Holmberg, Pauline "PJ" McGowan, and Holly Constant as a trio who comment and observe and sometimes interact. Like the principals, they have powerful, true singing voices.

The play seems at times like a lecture, with Margaret Sanger’s views and historical conditions described; at times like a topical farce, with sly references to Trump and silly comic shtick; and at times like a conventional musical. The first act is almost fully light-hearted, with true heart shown only in the second act, starting with Olive’s number "Invisible." From that point on, heartfelt emotion alternates with comedy, using a stirring eleven-o’clock number to help bring the show to a conclusion with Marston’s death and a return to the bookending Ms. magazine scene.

The tonal shifts in the play are reflected in the eclectic score. There are comedy novelty songs, lovely ballads, rock-inspired anthems heavy on memorable handles, and even a rap number late in the show. The music is solid throughout, but the lyrics are heavy on imperfect rhymes and sometimes feature iffy scansion. The catchy score seems as unfocused as the play’s emphases.

The story covers the time period from 1911 to 1947, and there’s a couple of anachronisms (aside from musical styles and dialogue that reflect a modern sensibility). A reference is made to the open relationship between Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir at a time in the early 20th century when they were still children. A story is concocted that the father of Olive’s children was killed in "the war," but what war is murky, given that the children were born in the 1930’s.

The purported point of the show is a feminist one, showing the power and inventiveness of the women behind the man. But when the man Marston is portrayed as a buffoon, his belief that women are socially superior to men loses some of its oomph. He becomes less of an ally to the women and more of a stooge. Feminism needn’t rely on the denigration of men. When you dig out the high end of an uneven playing field to equal the low end, you don’t make the field even; you create a playing field with a big dividing ridge in the middle. Showing the capability and strength of females can be accomplished when they eclipse males at their own game, not when the game is rigged in their favor.

The AMTF staging of "Wonder Women" shows evidence of great talent throughout, with fine direction, assured performances, and top-notch musicality throughout. Now it needs a shaking-out period before traveling to the 2019 Chicago Musical Theatre Festival, with perhaps some dramaturgical input to focus first-time playwright Becker’s vision. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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