There is a lot to like about The Marvelous Wonderettes. First and foremost are the Wonderettes themselves, who are in fact, quite marvelous. Farah Alvin, Beth Malone, Bets Malone and Victoria Matlock are four ridiculously talented women who shimmy, bop and sway in unison, and who sing a catalogue of 50’s and 60’s songs I defy anyone not to be entertained by. And they don’t just sing, they sing! All four women are able to mine the maximum amount of emotional value from one iconic song, then turn around and belt the shit out of another equally identifiable one. Watching them unleash their interpretive and vocal powers for two hours, one gets the sense that no matter what happens with this show, these four ladies have major careers ahead of them. And not just in musical theatre, any one of them could easily have pop, R&B or even jazz and blues success. Simply put, they are amazing – goose bumps amazing – and alone are worth the price of admission.
While nothing else that happens during the show carries the impact of the stars, several other creative touches are worth noting: the theatre has been converted into a high school gym on prom night circa 1958 (and, in Act II 1968), and all the details are there. The offstage band is hot and manages to maintain the integrity of each song, while at the same time making it sound fresh and alive. Each Wonderette is dressed in a period appropriate prom dress that, with the aid of color and cut, helps identify the archetype she represents. Wigs and glasses and other accessories and such have all been well thought out and executed. This show certainly delivers a lot to look at and listen to.
The one thing the play does not deliver, however, is anything resembling an interesting, believable or compelling plot. This is a problem mostly because after the first thirty minutes or so, you wish they would dispense with the dialogue that is meant to resemble a narrative and just focus on the music. It would have been fine with me if the plot was: “It is 1958 and you are at a Marvelous Wonderettes concert. The end.” There is no need to create one-dimensional characters and then try to find silly reasons to tie songs together and make a story. I don’t think this play exists because writer director Roger Bean had an epic story inside of him that needed to be let out. I think he wanted to celebrate and pay tribute to the songs and idealism of a more innocent time. It’s just too bad he didn’t trust the music and his Marvelous Wonderettes enough to let them do the job for him.
(The Marvelous Wonderettes plays off-Broadway at The Westside Theatre, 407 West 43rd Street. The run is open-ended and performances are Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 7pm, and matinees Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 3pm. Buy tickets at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. Tickets are $75. Visit marvelouswonderettes.com for more show info.)
Photo by Carol Rosegg...Front: Bets Malone; Back: Farah Alvin, Beth Malone, Victoria Matlock