Reviewed by George Basler
When you head to the Cider Mill Playhouse in Endicott for The Marvelous Wonderettes, be sure to bring your sense of rhythm and your memories. Nostalgia for the days of both crinolines and mini skirts is on full display in the pleasant, but forgettable, comic musical, which opened this past weekend and runs through Nov. 24.
The show is a textbook example of a juke box musical in which popular songs are strung together and intermixed with a paper-thin plot. In the case of The Marvelous Wonderettes, the songs are ones made popular by girl singers and girl groups in the 1950s and 1960s, ranging from Allegheny Moon to It’s My Party.
As long as the four actresses playing the Wonderettes are belting out the tunes, the Cider Mill show is sprightly fun. Unfortunately, the fun is undermined by a plot that is silly, at best, and grating, at worst. Written by Roger Bean, who also created the musical, the lame book features a muddled storyline and flat, one-dimensional characters that are often annoying, rather than amusing.
The action begins at the 1958 senior prom at Springfield High School (mascot: “the Chipmunks”) where Marvelous Wonderettes have replaced the school’s glee club, the Crooning Crab Cakes, as the entertainment after the club’s lead singer was suspended for smoking near the girls’ room.
The four Wonderettes are the ditsy Suzy (Cassandra Nary), the vain Cindy Lou (Genevieve Perrino), the earnest, bespectacled Missy (Jess Brookes) and the tomboy Betty Jean (Jennifer Chudacik). The plot, such as it is, has Betty Jean and Cindy Lou squabbling over a boy while Suzy longs for the lighting guy and Missy has a crush on a teacher, “Mr. Lee” (don’t tell the board of education).
The second act takes place 10 years later when the girls reassemble to perform at their 10th high school reunion.
The four characters must have been living in a cave because the turbulent events of the 1960s — the Civil Right movement, the Vietnam War, psychedelic drugs and the counter culture — haven’t touched them at all. Instead, the plot focuses on the women coming to terms with each other and their boyfriends or husbands.
It’s all rather clichéd stuff, and the characters — as directed by Michael Susko — are over-the-top stereotypes that arouse little emotional connection.
That being said, the main part of the show is obviously the music, and the Cider Mill production is fine in that respect. Nary, Perrino, Brookes and Chudacik perform with skill and flair. The songs are great ones, of course. All four actresses get a chance to shine in solos and harmonize well together.
Some of the best moments in the show are when the four actresses interact with an audience member, picked at random, to play the “Mr. Lee” character. The interaction is fun and feels fresh. It certainly requires skill from the cast members to make it work, but it also points out how much of the rest of the plot feels forced and flat.
The costumes, designed by Barbara Erin Delo and Marisa Wade, are first-rate in capturing both the late 1950s and 1960s. Craig Saeger’s set accurately depicts a high school gym that has been gussied up for a prom.
Since we’re back in high school, I’ll hand out grades: The music gets an A, and story a C-. The Marvelous Wonderettes might not be much of a show, but it’s a heck of a concert.I
IF YOU GO: The Marvelous Wonderettes is being performed Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 24 at the Cider Mill Playhouse, 2 S. Nanticoke Ave., Endicott. Performance times are 8:15 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Ticket prices range from $28 to $32. Call 748-7363, or visit the box office from 12:30-6:30 p.m. weekdays, except Mondays, and until curtain time on performance days. You also can buy tickets online at www.cidermillplayhouse.org.