Friday, September 12, 2008


Wednesday afternoon I ventured into “the City” (NYC) to see a matinee performance of THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES upstairs at the Westside Theatre on 43rd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues (as someone sitting behind me observed before the show began “not a bad seat in the house”). The show was 3:00 pm, not the traditional time for a matinee, but then this was off-Broadway. I was pleased that my “schlep” was minimal and that there was a cool breeze on both sides of the Hudson.

The first I heard of THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES was when I received a promotional flyer in the mail advertising a “limited-time offer” (available online, by phone or at the box office) for $39.00 tickets (regular price $75.00). Of course the $39.00 ticket actually cost me $46.00 after adding the various processing fees – but still a nice discount.

The flyer described the show as “a cotton-candied, non-stop musical blast from the past! Featuring your favorite songs from the fifties and beyond, THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES takes you to the 1958 Springfield High School prom where we meet the Wonderettes, four girls with hopes and dreams as big as their crinoline skirts and voices to match!

The show does indeed begin at the 1958 senior prom (theme = Marvelous Dreams) held in the gym of Springfield High School (“go chipmunks!”). The Wonderettes are four members of the school’s award-winning glee club who have joined together at the last minute at the urging of their faculty advisor to replace the original entertainment for the evening – the Crooning Crabcakes – when the lead Crabcake (a son of a preacher man) is expelled for smoking behind the girls’ locker room.

Included in the playbill is the prom program, reminiscent of the days of mimeograph (now there is a word that I haven’t heard in close to 30 years). The four girls in the group are also each vying for the title of Prom Queen, along with another student who has been excused from attending the prom due to a doctor’s appointment. The program included a ballot and we were each given a small #2 pencil so we could vote for our selection for the queen near the end of Act One (although I doubt our votes were actually counted).

Farah Alvin, Beth Malone, Victoria Matlock, and understudy Melissa Robinette were Wonderettes Missy, Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, and Suzy. A member of the audience was coaxed onstage to portray glee club faculty leader Mr. Lee being sung to by the girls. They harmonized well as a group and each also shined in their solo numbers, performing popular juke box hits of the day like “Mr. Sandman”, “Mr. Lee”, “Secret Love”, “It’s My Party” and “Lipstick on Your Collar” – the song often reflecting the character’s “back story” (especially in the 2nd Act).

The set was wonderful – a high school gymnasium full of banners exclaiming the achievements of the school’s various “extra curricular” clubs and activities, including the Chess Club and Future Farmers of America.

While both the playbill and the pre-show announcements made mention of an intermission, the story of the 1958 prom seemed to run its course and ended as the lights went up. What would be in the 2nd Act, I wondered. It turned out that Act 2 took place in 1968 at the 10-Year Reunion of the Springfield High Class of 1958, with the Wonderettes reunited to once again be the evening’s entertainment. The banners that decorated the gym during the prom were replaced with ones that read “Welcome Back Class of 1958”. We learned what had happened to the girls since graduation while they sang popular songs of the 1960s – “Wedding Bell Blues”, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” and “Son of a Preacher Man” included.

To some degree a sort of female version of FOREVER PLAID, as suggested in one of the rave reviews quoted in the publicity, THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES was originally created by Roger Bean, who also directed the NYC production, for the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre. It had a successful run in LA before coming to New York.

All in all it was a very entertaining afternoon – with great music and humorous antics. And to top it off the price was right, the theatre close to the bus station, and the weather cool. Two thumbs up!

The special discount ticket price offer is good for performances through December 18th. You can order online at or by phone at 212-947-8844. The code is MADRM01.

Next week is my first selection of the New York Music Theatre Festival.


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