Entertainment for the 1958 Springfield High School Senior Prom (GO CHIPMUNKS!) was supposed to have been provided by the Crooning Crab Cakes from the boys glee club, but lead singer, Billy Ray Patton, was caught smoking and suspended. Stepping up at the last minute, in perfectly coordinated costumes, are “The Wonderful Marvelettes” whoops – The Marvelous Wonderettes.
The bestie girl group includes serious, mousy Missy (Christina Bianco), who has a major crush on their teacher Mr. Lee; irrepressibly ditsy, Suzy (Diana Degarmo), dating Ritchie Stephens who runs the lights; conceited Cindy Lou (Jenna Leigh Green) with aspirations towards Hollywood; and tomboy Betty Jean (Sally Schwab), furious that boyfriend Johnny is two-timing her with Cindy Lou. (Revenge sabotage is repeatedly attempted. Blowing bubbles at her rival is unfunny.)
After a buoyant opening salvo of “Sandman,” “Lollipop”: Lollipop, lollipop/Oh lolli lolli lolli…and “Sugartime”: Sugar in the mornin’/Sugar in the evenin’/Sugar at suppertime/Be my little sugar/And love me all the time… the prom’s theme, ‘Marvelous Dreams’, is announced with performances of “All I Have to Do Is Dream” and “Dream Lover.” Are you growing nostalgic? Whether you can mouth the lyrics or have always been curious, this is the show for you. Regardless of my caveats, it’s musically and visually entertaining.
Numbers are vocally well arranged (Music Direction-Benjamin Rauhala) and delightfully choreographed (Choreography – Alex Ringler.) Costumes including uber-petticoated dresses and disco attire (Bobby Pearce) –successful except for Missy’s 1958 glasses in 1968, and hyper-exaggerated wigs (Jennifer Mooney Bullock) -not so much, illuminate epochs.
Christina Bianco, Jenna Leigh Green, Sally Schwab, Diana Degarmo
Songs are almost seamlessly inserted to express the girl’s relationships i.e. Missy sings “Born Too Late,” Suzy dedicates “Stupid Cupid” to her boyfriend, and Betty Jean accuses Johnny with “Lipstick on Your Collar” to which Cindy Lou responds with “Lucky Lips.”
The girls also challenge one another for the title of Prom Queen with a brief, simultaneous talent competition. Though baton twirling and singing are plausible, silk scarf juggling and walking with a book on one’s head fall flat. These are trained theater professionals. Surely one could have tapped, and another attempted an instrument, with each being given a separate, frustrated minute before the buzzer goes off.
Upon entering the theater, we’re given pencils with which to mark Prom Queen ballots inserted in the program. The gimmick alas, is thrown away. When collected, our ballots are dropped and swept off stage by Suzy. These might’ve been tallied during successive numbers allowing the real winner to get a solo and the crown. Either way, without at least the pretense of counting, the audience feels gypped.
Act II, with a change in styling, music, and lives, opens on the class’s ten-year reunion. Eschewing Rock in favor of Pop and Motown is something of a lost opportunity. Though choices are both apt to the storyline and fun, many sound way too much like their predecessors.
Only Suzy, now suffering through an enormous pregnancy (in her mini dress), and Betty Jean, have stayed in touch. Both are married, Suzy to Ritchie with whom she’s going through a rough patch and Betty Jean to the still philandering Johnny. Missy is having a clandestine relationship later revealed, while Betty Lou, having returned to town tail between her legs, has loved and lost.
All this plays out with the young women reforming bonds, expressing themselves: “It’s In His Kiss” (the Shoop Shoop song), “Wedding Bell Blues,” “It’s My Party, I’ll Cry If I Want To” and supporting one another: “Respect” (R-E-S-P-E-C-T), one of the best numbers in the show, with whining Suzy coming into her own before our eyes. We close with “Thank You and Goodnight” and the promise to reconvene in 1978.
William Davis’s Scenic Design gives us a cheerful, raised stage platform hung with metallic streamers and a banner, mobile microphone stands, and an appropriately loaded buffet table.
My chief objection to this production is its over-the-top, camp interpretation by Directors Tommy D’Angora and Michael D’Angora. This is a sweet, funny piece with great music and movement. Here, in Act I, the often irritating girls act like eleven year-olds throwing tantrums instead of high school seniors. Remember, this is the same period as the musical Grease. Any comedy must be played straight to be funny. The D’Angoras have sacrificed implicit emotions for clumsy, metaphoric pratfalls. They apparently have no confidence in the writing. Act II is less objectionable.
Three of the four actress/vocalists hold their own with Sally Schwab the weak link. Ms. Schwab is neither amusing nor believable. This is partially, one assumes, due to direction. Though she provides able bass line in harmonies, solos are weak.
Christina Bianco (Missy) well known denizen of the cabaret circuit, offers both quirky characterization and pithy singing. Dana Degarmo (Suzy) should be tamped down in Act I, but is poignant and funny in Act II. Vocals are appealing. Jenna Leigh Green is interestingly allowed to act throughout, making Cindy Lou the most authentic of the group. Her vocals are also solid.
Originally written in 1999, The Marvelous Wonderettes reached Off Broadway in 2008. This is only the most recent local revival of a quiet juggernaut. According to the program, the show has had over 300 worldwide productions and has two sequels with a fourth on the way.
Photos by Michael D’Angora
Opening: “Lollipop”: Sally Schwab, Jenna Leigh Green, Diana Degarmo, Christina Bianco
The Marvelous Wonderettes
Written and Created by Roger Bean
Directed by Tommy D’Angora and Michael D’Angora
The Kirk Theatre
410 West 42nd Street