The Marvelous Wonderettes (Review)

ETC's nostalgic, campy musical is genuine in its love for '50s/'60s pop music

Critic's Pick

In the program for The Marvelous Wonderettes, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s D. Lynn Meyers admits that when the show was brought to her attention she “did not leap at investigating it.” But today she feels that it exemplifies her season’s theme of “never settle” because it’s about four young women who have dreams and hopes and keep striving for them.

For a musical that revives Pop classics like “Stupid Cupid” and “Lucky Lips,” that might be a stretch, but Meyers’ intuition for audience-pleasing productions continues its unerring course. The show might not be profound, but I predict The Marvelous Wonderettes will entertain audiences for weeks. (The show has already been pushed out a week beyond its original closing date, and if demand is there it might be around even longer.)

The Wonderettes of Act I are a high-school girl group who get to sing at their 1958 prom when a boy group gets into some teenage trouble. The girls are full of hopes and dreams — “All I Have to Do Is Dream,” “Dream Lover” — even when they seem a tad off-kilter. (“Mr. Lee,” “Born Too Late” and “Teacher’s Pet” form a medley for an awkward girl with a crush on a teacher.)

In Act II, a decade later, they’re back for a reunion: Times have changed and they’re a bit more mature. In this act, each member of the quartet has a personal medley with a more sobering arc, not high drama but certainly a touch of reality: lost love, adult responsibility and so on.

But more than anything, this show is about good times and adolescent attitudes. That’s what makes it fun, especially portrayed by a cast of performers who each could carry a show on her own talents. Denise Devlin is a pretty boyfriend thief, while Sara Mackie plays a loud girl with a short fuse and a big voice. Their rivalry in Act I takes a more adult turn in Act II when they both have big vocal opportunities: Devlin with “Son of a Preacher Man” and Mackie with “That’s When the Tears Start.”

Brooke Rucidlo uses a sweet, vapid demeanor and a baby voice in Act I (keep an eye on her gum, too), then returns in a more worldly state after intermission with a request to “Rescue Me” and a break-through demand for “Respect.” Mia Gentile, still a student at UC’s College-Conservatory of Music, holds her own as a bespectacled teacher’s pet (she’s the quartet’s purported seamstress, but actual credit for the rainbow of dresses in pink, blue, green and apricot goes to Bobby Pearce, whose work has been used in previous productions of this show).

By Act II, Gentile’s Missy is a more confident woman, but she still conveys the role’s humor. She has a big voice when she unwraps it (“Wedding Bell Blues”), and she provides some remarkable vocal flourishes handling backup for other numbers.

The singers have great individual moments throughout, but they also comprise a top-notch ensemble for several of the show’s best numbers, from the opener “Mr. Sandman” to Act II opener “Heatwave.” Adding to the frivolity is the claustrophobic gym designed by Brian c. Mehring for ETC’s stage, one that evolves from pink crepe paper and hearts in Act I to purple glitter and flower power for the 1968 reunion.

The charm of this nostalgic show — which has plenty of campy shenanigans — is its genuine confidence in music from the era. “Sincerely,” the girls sing, “oh, you know how I love you.” You believe it, and I suspect you might even return the feeling.

THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES, presented by Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, has been extended again through May 29. Buy tickets, check out performance times and get venue details here.

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