Laura Catlaw grew up in the 1980s, but she knows the songs of the ’50s and ’60s hold a distinctive, American sound.
“It was iconic, this time in American history,” Catlaw, of Second and South streets, said. “I was always a fan of the music of that time — a little bit of a retrohead.”
The 27-year-old will be onstage at the Skybox at the Adrienne Theater belting out tunes from that era until June 24 as Cindy Lou, one of four main characters in the ’50s-pop-musical “The Marvelous Wonderettes.” The 11th Hour Theatre Co. production follows four high-schoolers as they vie for the title of prom queen, and picks up the story 10 years later in the second act.
“Cindy Lou is the self-proclaimed prettiest girl in school and she very much believes that she not only already is prom queen, but that she is entitled to be prom queen. She is probably the girl we all love to hate,” Catlaw said. “And she goes through the biggest change in the 10-year difference from high school.”
With songs like “Mr. Sandman” and “Lollipop” for the audience members to tap their feet to, “Wonderettes” is a feel-good walk down memory lane. Though hesitant to admit it, since Catlaw also calls her character a “troublemaker,” the actress and singer personally identifies with her onstage persona.
“I wasn’t as mean as she is. She is definitely the girl that would antagonize girls around her. I was not like that, but I did school band and chorus and thought I was going to be a big-time star, just like Cindy Lou does,” Catlaw said, adding with a laugh, “I’m sure if you ask my husband he’d say I’m a troublemaker.”
Her husband, George Riley, also is her business partner in their recent co-venture, The Twisted Tail, an Old City restaurant and bar the two opened July 18, 2011, two days after their wedding.
Right after the opening, Catlaw, a full-time actress, was balancing her theatrical career and the demands of the restaurant, which was her and Riley’s first hospitality venture. Now, they have found a good balance and an outpouring of support from the community.
“This past Thursday, I had a family [I know from The Twisted Tail] come and they waited after the show,” she said. “It is interesting, my two worlds coming together.”
Growing up in Jersey City, N.J, Catlaw fell into performing in high school.
“There was an audition for a production of ‘The Fantasticks.’ I was just like every 14- or 15-year-old, just going about life, didn’t really have any sense of what I wanted to do,” Catlaw said. “I had a friend who said, ‘Why don’t you come do this show? You’d really love it. You’re an extroverted person.’
“I fell in love with it. I decided I wanted to get an education in it.”
Catlaw headed to the University of the Arts in 2002. Graduating in ’06 with a bachelor’s of fine arts in musical theater, she already had local work.
“When I graduated, I booked ‘A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,’” Catlaw, whose mother was a modern dancer in New York City in the 1960s, said. “That was the start of a great journey here in Philadelphia theater.”
Catlaw has returned to New York City — near her childhood home — for a few projects, such as a touring rock musical for Nickelodeon, but she always has found her way back to Philly.
“I came to college looking for an education in theater and fell in love with this city, with Philadelphia. I fell in love with the theater community here,” she said. “I’m sure every community, when you’re in it, it feels like a family and a small community.
“I’ve been involved professionally for six years. I love the type of work here. There is every type of theater. You have the Walnut [Street Theatre] doing blockbuster hits, and then a theater like 11th Hour, taking shows that you’ve maybe never heard of or shows you have heard of and reinventing them. It’s a free place to create and a city that embraces freedom.”
In addition to building her acting résumé, Catlaw has become even more immersed in the community with the opening of The Twisted Tail.
“Owning a restaurant, it’s full-time experience because you are responsible for putting something into existence. I help out with a lot of the social aspects, whether it’s the party planning or I like to be on the floor whenever I’m not in rehearsal,” she said. “We want for people to know that George and I live around the corner. We’re a normal couple, to know us. We want people to feel like it’s ‘Cheers’ when they come in.”
For the time being, Catlaw’s energies have been with the recently opened production of the “Wonderettes.” While this show is still in its opening run, another version is on tap for later this year.
“We’re bringing a sequel called ‘The Winter Wonderettes.’ It’s the same idea of this show, but it’s all holiday music,” Catlaw said. “We’re bringing that with the same cast at [Norristown’s] Theatre Horizon, which has a brand new theater. We’ll be launching at that theater in the holiday season.”
But locals should make sure to see the current production, which, Catlaw said, people would have a hard time not falling in love with.
“I think there is a joyousness, a joy to it, and a little nostalgia. Sometimes it feels good to relive that iconic period of being an American and rejoice in the highlights of why we love it so much,” Catlaw said. “It is great music. I feel it brings a smile to people’s face. People will be charmed by it, and everybody loves to be charmed.”
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