The Marvelous Wonderettes
Reviewed by Deborah Klugman
Sierra Madre Playhouse
Through September 17
Directed by Robert Marra at the Sierra Madre Playhouse, Roger Bean’s The Marvelous Wonderettes offers a sparkling showcase of pop songs from the 1950s and 60s. For folks of a certain age, it’s a fun trip down memory lane: Not only is the music enjoyable and entertaining, it’s executed by an adept and comically talented ensemble who bring as much vitality to the corny book as they do to the vintage sounds.
The story begins in 1958 in a high school gym, where four hyped-up teenage girls are providing the entertainment for their school prom. They are filling in for the originally scheduled male vocalists, who’ve been disqualified from performing after one of them was suspended for hovering suspiciously around the girls’ locker room.
The four young ladies include the self-possessed and self-smitten Cindy Lou (Kelsey Boze); her favorite put-down target, the awkward Betty Jean (Kate Ponzio); the propriety-minded Missy (Afton Quast), who nonetheless carries a torch for a teacher, Mr. Lee; and the bubbleheaded Suzy (Kelly Klopocinski), in thrall to the guy Rick who’s running the lights.
The gals wear brightly colored dresses with full skirts and voluminous crinolines (costumes by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg) as — with conscientious concentration — they perform the magniloquent moves (choreography by Marra) that accompany the lyrics. The harmonies (musical direction by pianist Sean Paxton, with musical arrangements by Brian William Baker orchestrations by Michael Borth) are spot-on, even as the adolescent characters belt out their songs with a hilarious blend of naivete, self-assurance and sheer panic.
As to the plot, jammed in between the music, it involves broken hearts, secret crushes and rivalry over boys, all of which are neatly expressed in many of the lyrics. (I suspect a lot of this falls more within a woman’s ken than a man’s.) The 30-odd numbers include “All I Have to Do is Dream,” “Dream Lover,” “Lipstick on Your Collar” and “You Don’t Own Me.” A rendition of “It’s My Party (and I’ll cry if I want to) is a 4-part harmony standout.
In Act II, the four women — now older, wiser and in some cases sadder — return to sing again on the occasion of their 10th high school reunion. Their personalities are subdued, but their vocals still rock — an endearing musical portrait of a more wistful time.
Sierra Madre Playhouse, 87 W. Sierra Madre Blvd., Sierra Madre; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 2:30 p.m. on selected dates; Sun., 7 p.m.; through 17. (626) 355-4318 or www.sierramadreplayhouse.org. Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.