16 May 2019 (released)
20 May 2019
The Marvellous Wonderettes is a high school musical that takes you straight back to the delightful schmaltz of mid twentieth century pop. The show opens when four glamorous starlets trot onto the stage to provide the entertainment for their 1958 High School Prom. They swirl in the pastel perfection of their tight waisted, full skirted dresses in front of a glittering crescent moon. Their teenage angsts, jealousies and joys provide the story line that knits the tunes together giving each song specific (and intentionally corny) relevance.
For the second act, the quartet are brought back together for their ten-year reunion. This time we see them dancing in shiny white boots setting off their mini shift dresses. The 1968 numbers move the story on with the lyrics punctuating what’s happening in their love lives, their rivalries and friendships.
Behind transparent clouds, we can just discern the musicians as they provide a fabulous live instrumental accompaniment to the singing. This show gives us a selection of very well-known tracks mingled with lesser known numbers. I’ve heard multiple renditions of “Mr Sandman”, “Lollipop” and “Lipstick on your Collar” in the past but have never heard “Allegheny Moon” or “Mr Lee” before. It was the same with the sixties songs of Act Two, for example “It’s in his Kiss”, “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Respect” are well known hits but I wasn’t familiar with “Maybe I know” or “Needle in a Haystack”. It was fun to experience a mix of much loved songs with new discoveries.
Many elderly members of the audience probably remembered the sounds of their youth. They lapped it up and were clearly enjoying the light hearted fun. All four actors did a great job of engaging the audience and making some of them extra characters in the story. Sitting in the front row of this performance isn’t advised for any shy retiring types.
Although the four sang all of the numbers with energy and comically hammed up theatricality, their voices were more suited to some styles than others. The high notes and smooth harmonising required of the most demanding fifties numbers were a bit of a strain. The rocky rawness of some of the sixties numbers worked better – especially for the solo spotlights that allowed each singer to really give it their all.
There were moments when the storyline lumbered and almost detracted from our enjoyment of the music. The innocence and high-octane excitement of the teens almost tipped into the cloyingly saccharine. However, the pace and drama definitely intensified in the second half when we saw the girls at a more mature lifestage. Overall, this show is an enjoyable Wurlitzer ride through a range of jukebox hits that will delight older audiences.