The Marvelous Wonderettes
A jukebox musical can be perfect light summer fare. Take some semi-related popular songs and string them together with a bit of a story and you’ve got some entertainment. While Stoneham Theatre’s The Marvelous Wonderettes has a lot of toe-tapping tunes, but a weak and awkward script woefully underuses its talented cast.
The show mines the girl group songs of the 1950s and 60s, following four friends who are performing at their 1958 high school prom: Type-A prom decorations committee head Missy, goofy Suzy, fun girl and slightly butch Betty Jean, and glamour puss Cindy Lou giggle, squabble over boys and pump out a lot of nifty 50s songs like "Lollipop," "Mr. Sandman" and "Stupid Cupid."
The girls’ vocals are lovely and the cast couldn’t be more high energy, selling the hokiest of the show’s bits, like the fact that the group’s faculty advisor (on whom Missy has more than a crush) is named Mr. Lee, seguing far too obviously into the song of the same name. That Mr. Lee is "played" by an audience member who was particularly sweetly hammy at the reviewed performance helped tremendously.
The show’s second act, where the ladies reunite for their 10-year high school reunion, attempts to mix some pathos into the survey of 60s songs, sprinkling the act with marital troubles and even a mention of death. Writer and creator Roger Bean makes a bit of a hash of it though, as he forces the characters to act inconsistently or to recover from a hardship in less than a song. Bean also forces too many weak chuckles from giving the girls’ boyfriends and husbands names like Johnny so he can lead in songs like "It’s My Party." Yeah, it’s that kind of show.
Director Nick Sulfaro, who does keep things moving nice and quick, might have helped by, for example, having Betty Jean and Cindy Lou’s romantic rivalry be more of a through line, by starting it from the overly long pre-show.
Not every jukebox musical needs to try for the storytelling prowess of a "Jersey Boys," but it’s not too much to ask for characters you can care about or an evening of laughs ("Mama Mia" and "Forever Plaid" as sterling examples). The only reason to care about the characters in "The Marvelous Wonderettes" is the talent of the cast and the most laughs come from their sheer force of will.
It’s a tough call, but Tess Primack as Missy probably has the best voice of the bunch, ranging from some high and even operatic notes to rockin’ and souful on the show highlight "You Don’t Own Me." As rough and ready Betty Jean, Brittany Rolfs offers a lot more than just volume with a boundless comic energy as a high school dork and a nicely touching turn as a grown woman with marriage troubles, wringing emotion out of "That’s When the Tears Start."
Laura Graczyk as Suzy, married to her high school boyfriend, brings a lot of personality and quirk to her thinly sketched character. Graczyk also provides most of the true laughs as a very pregnant woman who wears go-go boots to the reunion, dammit. Lee Harrington’s Cindy Lou is stamped pretty early on with neon "bitch" sign and the script’s attempts at making her sympathetic fall short, but Harrington does shine vocally in "Maybe."
"The Marvelous Wonderettes" may not be a truly marvelous show, truthfully it might have benefitted from jettisoning all plot and being strictly a musical revue, but for a talented, high energy, fully committed cast, it can’t be beat.
The Marvelous Wonderettes continues through July 28, 2013 at the Stoneham Theatre in Stoneham. For more info you can go to the show’s website.