BWW Review: THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES Sparkle at Servant Stage

BWW Review: THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES Sparkle at Servant Stage

Robert Bean's THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES is still playing Off-Broadway after a long, long run. And why not? People love the jukebox musical, and people love Fifties and Sixties music. They love girl groups. Give them a jukebox musical about a girl group singing in the Fifties and the late Sixties, they'll eat out of your hand, right? Well, right.

Only thing is, THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES is more than just a collection of songs. In regional theatres it's often not done right; this reviewer has seen it elsewhere than Off-Broadway - or at Servant Stage Company - and been left in a muddle seeing it. Was there a real plot? A real theme?

In Servant Stage's production (disclosure: we attended the next to last performance), however, the plot and the thinly written book do in fact star between the songs. In the hands of director Wally Calderon, the show reveals its story as a tale of female bonding, friendship and relationship crises, and working to repair the female friendship. Working with two casts of four women, Calderon and his performers created the unusual situation of casts being able to cross performances with members of the other cast with perfectly seamless crossovers. But when your casts include such local professionals as Kat Prickett and Brittany Adair Beitzel, that really should be expected.

Performing at their senior prom as a last-minute fill-in, and at their tenth reunion as what might have been expected to be nostalgia, but isn't, the Wonderettes unite, fight, and reunite over who's leading a song, who's stolen whose man, and other problems of life and the universe, but they somehow manage to come back together every time. In the first act there's more fighting over who's up next as lead, while in the second, there's residual anger built up over the past decade, from weddings to breakups to moving, but they've mostly come into their own in a difficult decade. Suzy, the prom queen, may have found high school the best years of her life, but for teacher Missy, who's dating the school heartthrob teacher, and for Cindy Lou and BJ, who are able to be friends again, the truth that so many know is that high school is a pale second to adult life.

The songs, though predictible, are enjoyable. The Fifties set, in the first act, is the wholesome, non-controversial popular music of teen love ("Lollipop," "Mr. Sandman") and teen loss ("Lipstick on Your Collar"). The Sixties, though, are more mature and more rebellious, and so are the Wonderettes ("You Don't Own Me," "Son of a Preacher Man," "Leader of the Pack," "Respect"). Because of that, and because of the plot, as they say, having thickened over ten years, the second act is more energetic and more edgy, but that's a deliberate construction in the plot.

The second act proves to be full of audience favorites: "Wedding Bell Blues," "I Only Want to be With You," and, in this production, a total show stopper of "It's My Party." The only thing that could have improved a lineup of Dusty Springfield, Lesley Gore, and Aretha would have been fitting the plot to include "Judy's Turn to Cry" and a way to work in 'Downtown."

A particularly nice touch to this production is its setting. Rather than one of the usual Servant Stage venues, the choice was the gymnasium at Emerald Foundation (formerly the Jewish Community Center), lending the show an air of complete authenticity with a prom-decorated gym.

This show is a fine example of Servant Stage's style - theatre that's family friendly for all ages without being self-consciously "clean" or child-oriented. Their pay-what-you-will policy that allows for whole families to come to shows and the quality of the shows chosen means that introducing children to "adult" theatre can be affordable and that seniors can get to superior productions on a fixed income. The night this reviewer attended, there were several disabled theatregoers as well. Next up, a junior production of JUKEBOX SATURDAY NIGHT in May, and an all-summer run of an original production, I'LL FLY AWAY: BACKWOODS BLUES BAND. Pulling some of their best musicians from their GOSPEL RADIO HOUR shows and other events, this promises to be another illustration of one of Servant Stage's best features, its bluegrass music. Visit servantstagecompany.com for information.

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From This Author Marakay Rogers

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