On my recent trip to New York, I had some limitations as to which shows I could see when. Because I was getting press passes, I could only see The Tin Pan Alley Rag on Thursday and Vanities on Sunday. (Read my review of the former here and the latter here.) I had planned on attending the full-day marathon of The Norman Conquests on the Saturday, so that left my Friday night show slot to fill. I had already seen everything else on Broadway, so I turned my attention to Off-Broadway.
The only Off-Broadway musical that I hadn't already seen was The Marvelous Wonderettes. After my recent experience with Forever Plaid, I must admit that I was less than excited at the prospect. To me, The Marvelous Wonderettes seemed like a Plaid retread: same concept, different body parts. But I turned out to be a lot more entertained than I was with Forever Plaid, and pleasantly surprised at the quality of the performances.
Unlike the boys of Forever Plaid, The Marvelous Wonderettes are very much alive. The first act takes place at the girls' senior prom in 1958, the second act at their ten-year high school reunion. Like the Plaids, the Wonderettes comprise a close-harmony singing group, and serve as the entertainment for both prom and reunion. The intervening decade allows for some of the same growing-apart-and-coming-back-together hand-wringing that's evident a few blocks north at Vanities. But somehow, Wonderettes writer/director Roger Bean pulls it all off considerably better, probably because the whole affair takes itself a lot less seriously.
Act one is a slight but pleasant diversion, liberally sprinkled with such 1950s standards as "Lollipop" and "Secret Love." Things get considerably more interesting and entertaining in the second half, and I found myself engaged almost despite myself, carried away by the sheer charm of the four performers. I was particularly taken with the dynamic and hilarious Lindsay Mendez as Betty Jean and Christina DeCicco as Cindy Lou, her best friend and rival in romance. Equally enjoyable were Misty Cotton as the uptight-but-destined-to-unwind Missy, and Kirsten Bracken as, well, the blond.
The Marvelous Wonderettes seems destined to become one of those small, Off-Broadway hits that runs for years but that no one you know has actually seen. (e.g. Nunsense, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change) I say, give it a try. It's a light-weight but amiable showcase for some terrific old songs and four wonderful performers. As far as feminine tales of lost and found friendship go, you could certainly do a lot worse. (cf. Vanities)