BOTTOM LINE: A G-rated, candy-coated musical revue full of 1950s girl pop. It’s the least edgy show ever, but it’s a great night out if you’re looking for wholesome entertainment.
The Marvelous Wonderettes couldnâ€™t be sweeter if it tried. The four Wonderettes harmonize and bop their way through two hours of hits from the â€˜50s and â€˜60s, including “Lollipop,” “Leader of the Pack,” “Mr. Sandman,” “It’s My Party,” and several other recognizable tunes. The show itself is lacking in both originality and inspiration, but that doesn’t negate from the talented quartet and the music they make.
With the live band backstage and the cast consisting of only the four girls, audiences at The Marvelous Wonderettes become the audience of the girl group of the same name. The show’s premise is simple: act one has the four girls performing as the entertainment at their 1958 senior prom, and act two takes place at their ten-year reunion as they reunite and sing together once more. Throughout the show we learn about the girls as individuals and their relationships with each other, with their songs loosely connected to the story (e.g. one girl has a crush on her teacher, so they sing “Teacher’s Pet”). In the second act we learn what’s happened to their teenage dreams, and we see how they’ve grown since their glory days.
The performances are lovely, and the four women sing with energy and enthusiasm. Given the intimate nature of the Westside Theatre — it seats less than 300 –Â it’s even more crucial to the experience that the actors become their characters. And since there’s a lot of audience participation, phoning it in would be all too obvious. Misty Cotton (Missy), Christina DeCiccio (Cindy Lou), Kirsten Bracken (Suzy), and Lindsay Mendez (Betty Jean) all have copious professional credits, and all have the vocal chops to do these songs justice.
Hands down, the best part of The Marvelous Wonderettes is the music. With classic songs that you know and love, it’s enjoyable to hear a jukebox musical of your favorites from the mid-20th century. The four women sing most songs together, either sharing lead vocals or harmonizing as one of them sings lead. They sound fabulous together, although it doesn’t seem like many moments provide much of a vocal stretch. When they really belt it’s glorious, so it’s unfortunate they have to play it safe so much of the time. The musical arrangements are also nicely organized, highlighting every cast member with equal importance.
The detrimental part of this show is the book. Musical revues have never been known for insightful storytelling, but The Marvelous Wonderettes barely even touches creative territory with its banal tale of four stereotypical high school girls. We meet them at 18 and hear their tales of teenage woe, then we see them ten years later, all grown up, and discover how their lives have changed since their school days. Motherhood, divorce, and widowhood have all taken their toll, but the sugarcoated storyline doesn’t actually delve into real places of pain; instead, the ladies sing about their troubles. Don’t go into The Marvelous Wonderettes expecting an actual story about real people — it’s a lighthearted musical romp, nothing more.
If you like the bubblegum-pop genre, you should certainly see The Marvelous Wonderettes. It’s fun to hear these songs live, which doesn’t happen that often anymore. And the cast is tremendously talented, playing well with each other and seemingly having a ball. This is the perfect show for anyone over 55, and although someone younger might have a great time, I’m certain those who grew up with the songs will appreciate it more.
The Marvelous Wonderettes plays at the Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St., between 9th and 10th avenues. Performances are Mon-Tue and Fri 8 PM, Wed and Sat 3 and 8 PM, and Sun 3 PM. Tickets are $79 and can be purchased at telecharge.com; use discount code MABBX34 through September 13 for $45-$55 tickets. For more show info visit marvelouswonderettes.com.