The writers of The Marvelous Wonderettes were wise to create a show that has direct appeal to the primary local theatergoing audiencebaby boomers. Incorporating many famous songs from the 1950s and 1960s, this show may be thin on plot, but there's enough showbiz razzmatazz to go along with those songs to make for an enjoyable show. Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati provides a worthwhile production in large part due to the talented and well-prepared cast.
The Marvelous Wonderettes tells the story of four high school gals in 1958 performing as a singing group at their senior prom. Each lady is up for prom queen as well. Cindy Lou is the pretty and snobby girl. Missy is the bookish one with horn rimmed glasses. Suzy is the sweet girl next door, while Betty Jean is the boisterous and unrefined one. Though there's some conflict (Cindy Lou kissed Betty Jean's boyfriend), these ladies have high hopes for the future. Act two finds the women ten years later at their high school reunion. Though life hasn't worked out as well as any of them hoped, they still have their dreams, and hope remains intact.
The book for the show by Roger Bean is a mixed bag. There's plenty of solid humor throughout, including some fun audience participation, but some of the broad comedy bits conveying the tension between Cindy Lou and Betty Jean are overused. The characters are certainly generic and stock, but the connecting dialogue provides some dimension to them. Much of the plot is carefully based on the characters and storylines within the songs, with the dialogue sometimes setting up the characters first, only to be furthered by lyrics later on. Like most jukebox musicals, however, the story is slight, and secondary to the instantly recognizable songs. Many of the songs were performed by the girl groups of the '50s and '60s that these characters mimic, and their appeal is impossible to deny. "Lollipop," "Dream Lover," "Teacher's Pet," "Wedding Bell Blues," "It's My Party," "Respect," "Leader of the Pack" and "Son of a Preacher Man" are just some of the more than thirty songs that make up the score.
A strong cast has been assembled for this production. Denise Devlin (Cindy Lou) provides very strong vocals, and balances the good and bad aspects of the attractive, well-off, all-American girl with aplomb. CCM student Mia Gentile provides a nicely layered portrayal of go-getter Missy, displaying a great singing voice and restrained yet effective comedy and acting choices. As Betty Jean, Sara Mackie shows off some versatility and comedic strength, but her vocals are a bit pitchy at times. Brooke Rucidlo is extremely endearing as Suzy and conveys the humor of her role with great skill.
Director D. Lynn Meyers provides strong blocking, a first rate approach to the piece's comedy, and a sufficient pace. She also is able to bring out praiseworthy and nuanced performances in her cast. The choreography by Patti James is period appropriate and fun, yet executed with a degree of slightly unpolished amateurishness that is suitable to the experience and expertise of the characters. Musical Director Scot Woolley has prepared his cast well as they sing to recorded tracks.
As usual, designer Brian Mehring provides an attractive and apt set. In a small space, Mr. Mehring has created a late 1950s high school gymnasium decorated for prom in neon pink and turquoise with lots of nice details. When the action moves to 1968, the hearts that previously adorned the stage are now flowers (as in flower power) and other sixties items are present as well. Mr. Mehring also supplies the professionally rendered lighting for the show. This production uses the original costumes by Bobby Pearce, which are fun and period appropriate.
The Marvelous Wonderettes is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for baby boomers. Though the story is slight and formulaic, the songs and characters carry the show. Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati supplies a likeable and fun production, with fine performances, direction, design, and choreography. ETC presents the show through May 16, 2010. For tickets, please call (513) 421-3555 or visit www.cincyetc.com.