The “Wicked Good Musical Revue” presents its 10th-anniversary show

The “Wicked Good Musical Revue” presents its 10th-anniversary show

March 13, 2024
by Abby Remer, The MV Times

If you want to laugh, cry, sigh, or grin, this year’s 10th-anniversary edition of the “Wicked Good Musical Revue” is for you.

I spoke with founding director Molly Conole and musical director David Behnke, and the two are giddy with delight over the upcoming performance.

I learned that Molly Conole, who has had a heart for the stage since childhood, founded the revue in 2014, when she returned to the Island. She had lived in Florida for 23 years, after growing up here. With no musical theater going on during the winter on the Vineyard, she had a hankering to start something new. As an Actor’s Equity member, Conole had to find an Equity theater, and so approached MJ Bruder Munafo, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse.

Knowing it was expensive to produce a full-scale musical, the first effort was a cabaret in the lobby. “We did it downstairs, because we thought it was a casual atmosphere, and at least 30 people were standing,” Conole says. “We knew we hit a nerve, and tapped into an audience that was there and looking for musical entertainment, because musical theater is so rich.” She continues, “It’s a universal language. The repertoire is so varied and wide it taps into every single emotion. We realized we had something going, so we bumped it to the upstairs.”

Her first partners in crime included Paul Munafo, Shelagh Hackett, and Ken Romero. The cast grew over the years, and, in this edition, includes David Behnke, Rachel Cook, Jenny Friedman, and Katherine Reid, accompanied by Peter Boak and Molly Sturges on piano.

Behnke, who is the current musical director, picks up the story. “It started out as pretty casual, and it got less and less so as years went on, but it has never lost the spirit of a ‘let’s put on a show’ atmosphere,” he stresses. “We’re like a family. We love each other. We fight like a family. We have egos like a family, but every single person on that stage is there for every other person in the room. It’s just a wonderful group, and we all look forward to it every year.”

Conole adds, “When we’re not performing, we’re still so engaged with what’s happening onstage. In every show I’ve participated in, I leave the stage with cheeks that hurt from smiling so much. During these wonderful performances, I can’t wait to hear from my fellows.”

“There’s a lot of rehearsal, both personal and group, behind this,” Behnke says, “It’s not just the choreography, but the music and the putting it across. These are not casual throw-it-together productions. They are professional theater.”

Conole concurs: “We retain that spontaneous atmosphere through a lot of hard work and preparation.”

“Wicked Good Musical Revue” — titled with a tongue-in-cheek New England connotation — has a dedicated following that helps fuel the performers’ energy. “The audiences are great, and we feed off it,” Behnke shares. “There are people who have the same seats on the same night for every show every year. You know they’ll be there, and you look forward to it.”

He details the complex process of creating the show, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. Behnke began by asking the veterans what songs they had performed that they absolutely had to do again. “I joke that the first draft for the program was four, or four and a half, hours with three intermissions and a dinner break … it was a monster.”

How did they make it manageable? “It was painful,” admits Behnke. “Everybody suggested solos and duets they wanted, and who they wanted to do them with. I also sat down, looked at every program we’ve done, and pulled additional material out that hadn’t risen to the surface. The list was pages and pages.

“Then the hard part began, because it was a balancing act. The rules were that everybody gets one solo, and most people are matched in duets with most of the other singers.” He essentially selected the acts’ opening and closing ensembles based on what was the most fun to do.

The challenge, Behnke says, “was that every singer on that stage wants to do a heart-wrenching ballad. You can’t do two hours of them. You try to balance the funny and the upbeat with the ballad and the downbeat.”

Glancing over the run-of-show, Behnke appears to have nailed it. “It’s the performers’ favorites, and there are an awful lot of audience favorites as well. The music spans nine decades and 26 different shows … and there are only 28 numbers in the performance,” Behnke explains.

When all is said and done, Conole says, she wants the audience to “come and have a wicked good time.”

Behnke adds the quintessential parting thought: “After practically every show, people will walk up and say, ‘This is the best one you’ve ever done.’ I hope that every show we do, they’re still saying that.”