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Stage Review

A prom full of pop in ‘Marvelous Wonderettes’

From left: Tess Primack, Laura Graczyk, Lee Harrington, and Brittany Rolfs in Stoneham Theatre’s “The Marvelous Wonderettes.”

Carla Donaghey

From left: Tess Primack, Laura Graczyk, Lee Harrington, and Brittany Rolfs in Stoneham Theatre’s “The Marvelous Wonderettes.”

STONEHAM — When the Crooning Crabcakes have to cancel their performance at the 1958 Springfield High School prom, their last-minute replacement is The Marvelous Wonderettes, a quartet of classmates who perform despite some internal squabbling and personal preoccupations. In the Stoneham Theatre’s pleasant but uninspired summer offering, “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” the prom performance provides an opportunity to showcase pop hits from the 1950s in Act 1. In Act 2, the girls are reunited 10 years later, when they update us on their personal progress through selected pop hits from the 1960s.

Writer Roger Bean hews closely to stereotypes as we get to know the Wonderettes, which includes the ditsy Suzy Simpson (Laura Graczyk), vain Cindy Lou Huffington (Lee Harrington), nerdy Missy Miller (Tess Primack), and tomboy Betty Jean Reynolds (Brittany Rolfs). As the girls work through their numbers, including “Lollipop,” “Allegheny Moon,” and “Dream Lover,” we get a bit of back story: Cindy Lou has stolen Betty Jean’s boyfriend (“Lipstick on Your Collar”), Suzy’s in love with the prom’s lighting guy (“Stupid Cupid”), and Missy has a “Dream Lover,” who happens to be their teacher (“Mr. Lee”). Transitions occur when the girls use a “dream catcher” (a.k.a. “cootie catcher”) to decide who will sing the next song.

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The frame is reminiscent of “Forever Plaid,” the show that spoofed the tight harmonies of ’50s boy bands before the Beatles landed. The difference here is that while individually, the performers in “The Marvelous Wonderettes” have powerful singing voices, together they never deliver the distinctive blend that makes such songs as “Mr. Sandman” and “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight” sound unforgettable. Instead, all four voices lack individual grit and sound like they have not only the same range, but the same tone and quality, with the effect tending toward shrill rather than sweet. When each singer gets a breakout solo, she proves her vocal quality: Graczyk a standout on “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me,” Harrington’s warm voice wrapping around “Maybe,” Primack delivering a lovely “Secret Lover,” and Rolfs raising the roof by belting out “I Only Want to Be With You,” as well as offering some impressive harmonica playing on “Allegheny Moon.”

Director Nick Sulfaro encourages his performers to be broad and brassy when a little subtlety might have suggested more distinctive personalities. The brassiness almost works for “tomboy” Betty Jean, but the rest of the girls just look awkward. The best moment of the show comes when the performers reach out into the audience for a “Mr. Lee.” Their interaction with a game audience member is fun and feels real, which only emphasizes the flat, two-dimensional interactions with each other.

Christopher Ostrom creates the outline of a high school gymnasium complete with crepe paper-covered girders and a glitter ball hanging from a basketball hoop. Music director Jim Rice leads a five-piece band that adequately plays all the notes, but never seems to find a groove. Overall, “The Marvelous Wonderettes” don’t live up to their name, and the bland sameness of the presentation feels like a disservice to those prom queens and song stylists of yesteryear.

Terry Byrne can be reached at trbyrne@aol.com.
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