Theatre review: The Marvelous Wonderettes – forget the diet and savour these empty calories

Just like cotton candy, The Marvelous Wonderettes is pure fluff and packed with sugar but with the four talented women on stage I am more than willing to do an extra workout with Shakespeare and Beckett at a later date to enjoy these empty calories now.

A jukebox musical in the vein of The Buddy Holly Story and even the more recent American Idiot featuring the music of Green Day, The Marvelous Wonderettes strings together nearly three dozen pop hits from the 1950s and 60s to help tell its (rather thin) story.

Act one finds The Wonderettes, the all-woman quartet, providing the entertainment at their 1958 high school prom as last minute replacements for the boy’s glee club.  Rather conveniently, playwright Roger Bean builds the quartet from types that just as conveniently fit his song choices:  the jokester Betty Jean (Meghan Anderssen), the sweet Suzy (Diana Kaarina), the glamorous Cindy Lou (Lalainia Lindbjerg), and the earnest Missy (Jennie Neumann).  Between the 1950’s songs that include everything from Mr Sandman to Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me the girls squabble, usually about boys.

In act two the women find themselves back in the gymnasium but it is now 1968 and they are there to provide entertainment for their ten year high school reunion.  The girls still have boy problems, but these problems are a little more grown-up now.  In this new decade Lolipop and Lipstick On Your Collar makes way for such 60’s hits as You Don’t Own Me and Rescue Me, once again conveniently chosen to help underscore the show’s slight narrative.

With its mediocre book The Marvelous Wonderettes must rely heavily on the four actors singing abilities and you can’t get much better than the four assembled here.  Powerhouses on their own, combined they bring refreshing and crisp harmonies to the songs.  While a little more successful with the sweet harmonies of 50s than the slightly edgier sound of the 60s, this is a minor quibble with a show that sees these four out of the gates with such energy that it makes you wonder how they are going to maintain it for the nearly two hour show.  But they do, with what appears to be energy to spare, even as they greet their audience with equal enthusiasm after the show.

The cast of The Marvelous Wonderettes
Jennie Neumann, Diana Kaarina, Lalainia Lindbjerg and Meghan Anderssen in The Marvelous Wonderettes.

Director Jerry Jay Cranford does double-duty as choreographer and his success here has me re-thinking my long held belief that director and choreographer should never be the same person.  In fairness I should acknowledge there is more need in this show for dance moves than stage blocking but that Cranford is able to effectively do both, where so many have failed before, is a testament to his abilities.

Al Frisk’s set design is kept simple with a three level stage for the women to appear both individually and as a group and since it is meant to be indicative of a high school prom the homemade signs are as appropriate as the notices scattered throughout the 8th floor of the PAL Theatre.  Jessica Dmytryshyn dresses the girls in appropriately color coordinated crinolines in the 50s and gives them a psychedelic groove for the 60s. Geoff Hollingshead proves that even with a small budget it is still possible to create an almost flawless sound.  Musical director Steven Greenfield keeps his small band grooving through the two decades with an authentic sound.

The Marvelous Wonderettes is all about feasting from the dessert table of these four terrific marvelous performances.  Stop counting those calories and partake; save the meatier buffet for another day.

4 Out of 5 Stars The Marvelous Wonderettes

By Roger Bean.  Directed by Jerry Jay Cranford.  Musical direction by Steven Greenfield.  A Canadian Actors Equity Association approved Co-op.  On stage at the PAL Theatre through February 26, 2012.  Visit http://marvelouswonderettes.ca for tickets and information.

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