BWW Review: THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES, Upstairs at The Gatehouse
We've been here before - in Glee, in Carrie and, luckily for me as I don't know much about American High Schools, in Mean Girls. The Heathers this time are nice Missy, bitchy Cindy Lou, feisty Betty Jean and insecure Suzy - they never really progress much beyond types, even when we meet them again in Act Two, ten years on.
Indeed, Roger Bean's show is 20 or so years old now, and I suspect it was a little old-fashioned when it first saw the light of day in Milwaukee (happily, the setting for Happy Days). The girls define themselves largely by their relationships with boys and, in the second half, the women, despite a rousing rendition of Lesley Gore's "You Don't Own Me", are still defining themselves by their relationships with men. Older and wiser they may be, but the same gals - perhaps that's fair enough for 1968 though.
If that's the downside of this jukebox musical (premiering in the UK), the upside is the delivery of exactly what people want from a jukebox musical. The songs are fantastic, an eclectic mix of 50s and 60s standards with a handful of less familiar tunes thrown in to keep us on our toes. The picks for me were a well-judged version of Doris Day's sublime, operatic "Secret Love" and a barnstorming take on Martha Reeves and the Vandellas' "(Love Is Like A) Heatwave". You'll have your own faves, of course.
The four singers don't need to act much (though Kara Taylor Alberts is clearly gifted in conveying emotion as Suzy) but all sing well individually, the most impressive being Sophie Camble's smiley Missy. Louise Young (Betty Jean) feuds with best frenemy Rosie Needham (Cindy Lou) throughout, but that doesn't get in the way of the fine vocals.
They're at their best in close harmony work, for which I am, and always will be, an absolute sucker. What a delight it is to hear that style at such close quarters, and we're not shortchanged by interpolating too many diva moments either. It's worth the ticket price just for the opener, "Mr Sandman".
None of it would work without a fine live band, and Lauren Ronan leads them on keys with no little brio. Best of all, the volume of the instruments is just right for the amplified (but not over-amplified) voices - a point of detail that is too often overlooked.
So don't expect West Side Story, but do expect an untaxing evening of pure entertainment - and there's nothing wrong with that!