The Marvelous Wonderettes (9/13/2008)
When The Marvelous Wonderettes, a crinolined quartet of powerhouse girl singers, line up friskily behind their mics and belt out the opener, “Mr. Sandman,” with such flawless harmony and contagious glee, you instantly know you’ve been transported to pop musical heaven. Suddenly ‘50s nostalgia feels fresh and fun again.
The recently opened Off-Broadway show is set in 1958 at the Springfield High Senior Prom, and then later fast-forwards to the 1968 reunion. The girls go from satin and sequins to go-go boots and big hair, bickering and singing their hearts out all along the way. Of the group, Cindy Lou is the boyfriend stealing alpha girl; Missy wears mousy cat’s eye glasses and plays the clown to cover her insecurity; Betty Jean is the practical, peace-keeping one; and Suzy is the blonde eye candy with a purring, pouty baby voice.
There’s a part in the show where each Wonderette steps out and takes the stage to deliver a solo designed to move the plot along; it is at this point that each girly-girl morphs into a full-throated hear-me-roar female—the sheer power of their individual vocal ranges raise goose bumps of awe. After Missy (Farah Alvin), I thought: “Whoa! Wow! She’s the best in the quartet.” Then Betty Jean (Beth Malone) took the stage and all bebop bets were off. After Cindy Lou (Victoria Matlock) and Bets Malone (Suzy) delivered their solos, I honestly couldn’t pick a favorite.
Written and directed by Roger Bean (Why Do Fools Fall in Love?, Honky Tonk Laundry), the show came to New York City after a record-breaking 19-month run at Los Angeles’ El Portal Theatre. This frothy romp of a show is the sort of experience that will have people returning to see it a second, if not a third time. It’s infectious fun, and expertly choreographed. Songs include “It’s in His Kiss,” “Leader of the Pack,” “Mr. Lee,” “Respect,” “Lollipop,” and “All I Have to Do is Dream.”
Warning to cute, clean-cut guys attending the show: if you don’t want to be picked out of the audience to play “Mr. Lee” for a few minutes, don’t sit too close to the stage. However, the guy they dragged up there during the performance I attended, though red-faced, was a really good sport as The Marvelous Wonderettes had him laughing and relaxed in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.
Photo credit: Michael Lamont