The Marvelous Wonderettes

Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy
@Kennedy Theatre
Through July 10
website for more info

There isn’t much to The Marvelous Wonderettes at Hot Summer Nights at the Kennedy. And when the curtain fell for the first act, I was briefly convinced the play was over. As it turned out, I was half right; it was originally a one-act play that was later expanded.

A variation on the “jukebox musical” trend that focuses on the light hits of the late 1950s and early 1960s, it’s the sort of entertainment that will most appeal to fans of the doo-wop cover concerts aired on PBS during pledge drives. The thin plot involves the eponymous high-school quartet called upon at the last minute to sing at their senior prom in 1958. Gathered on a gym stage in color-coded dresses, they perform (deliberately) over-choreographed renditions of such former hits as “Lollipop,” “Dream Lover” and so forth.

Aside from their own youthful awkwardness, conflict arises with Betty Jean (Meredith Jones) and Cindy Lou (Cassandra Zangas Vellery) constantly attempting to one-up each other, while gum-chewing Suzy (Annie Gane) is gaga over her unseen date and bespectacled Missy (Sherri Lee Allen) declares her love for teacher Mr. Lee (played by an audience member, who in this case, improvised well enough to seem like a natural part of the cast). There’s further audience interaction with a vote for prom queen, though my research reveals that the winner is in fact rigged at all performances of this play. The second act takes place at the 10-year reunion in 1968, where further relationship troubles drive both the songs and the conflict.

There’s a light, positive energy to The Marvelous Wonderettes, though the limited stage space inhibits the choreography and visuals. (I did like a subtle gag of a kickball stuck in the gym rafters in the first act; in the second act, it’s still stuck and mostly deflated.) Though the cast members are all too old to be playing teenagers (or even 10 years out of high school, in a few cases), they all bring a strong enthusiasm to the part, particularly Jones and Gane in the second act.

The show is a crowd-pleaser, earning a standing ovation at the performance I attended, and writer Roger Bean has already done a sequel, Winter Wonderettes, So there’s likely to be more Wonderette covers in the future, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although some may wish there was a little more story to go with the doo-wop.