Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Theater Review: The Marvelous Wonderettes -- Ivoryton

Melissa Robinette, Paige Neal, Danielle Rhodes, Alanna Wilson. Photo by Anne Hudson.
A Double Blast from the Past Stirs Humor, Memories in the Present
By Lauren Yarger
It's 1958 and The Marvelous Wonderettes, an all-female vocal group, is entertaining at the Super Senior Prom and then flash, it's the 10-year reunion in 1968 -- both excuses for the women to sing a bunch of familiar toe-tapping pop tunes from the eras, which have audiences at the Ivoryton Playhouse smiling in nostalgia.

There's an attempt at a book by writer and creator Roger Bean: Betty Jean (Paige Neal) is feuding with former best friend Cindy Lou (Melissa Robinette, who understudied three of the roles for the show's Off-Broadway run) over a boy. Suzy (Alanna Wilson) has just been pinned by the guy running the lights (Tate R. Burmeister, design) and shy Missy (Danielle Erin Rhodes) has a secret love.

If you're looking for more plot than that, you'll be disappointed. The story device, nonsensical at times (Betty Jean and Cindy Lou make up in the middle of the feud for no apparent reason; all of the women suddenly stop, drop and roll for a few-second fire drill....) is just a device for the songs.

All four women, directed by John Sebastian DeNicola (who also music directs), scream '50s and '60s in crinoline-poofed and A-line dresses (Julia Bowers, costume design) and era-popular dos (Joel Silvestro, hair/wig design. ). They also seem to be having a lot of fun and exude lots of enthusiasm belting out the tunes, performing simple, cheesy choreography in front of a glittery silver curtain with streamers and comically interacting with audience members, where the prom theme decor extends into the house (Cully Long, set design). Neal's gift for humor is used nicely.

Some of the harmonies (Bean and Brian William Baker, vocal arrangements) are less than marvelous, with "poof" giving way to "flat," but this doesn't distract the audience,  many of whom probably are recalling their own 1958 (or prior) proms from enjoying tunes like "Dream Lover," "Goodnight Sweetheart," "Leader of the Pack," "Lollipop,"Mr. Sandman," "Wedding Bell Blues" and others accompanied by four musicians (two keyboards, guitar and percussion). The 60s tunes in the second act seem less familiar, but Robinette's "Son of a Preacher Man" is terrific.

The Marvelous Wonderettes runs through Oct. 18 at the Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton. Tickets are available by calling 860-767-7318 or by visiting www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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