USE BYRNE wonderettes bianco.jpgChristina Bianco in a spotlight number, backed by Jenna Leigh Green and Sally Schwab. | THEMARVELOUSWONDERETTES.COM
You won’t go see “The Marvelous Wonderettes” for its plot, that’s for sure. It’s a forced, paper-thin tale of a high school girl group recruited to entertain at their prom and then reunited 10 years later. The reason you might be tempted to go is to hear the songs from the late 1950s and ‘60s sung in close harmony. The concept is dated, overdone, even hackneyed, but it can have a certain nostalgic appeal, beguiling an evening. If you are so tempted, I have only one word for you: resist.
The original Off Broadway production in 2008 was charming, musically adroit, and clever, despite being a blatant knock-off of “Forever Plaid,” more or less the same show with four guys rather than girls and a slightly different device to wrap around the musical numbers. What charm there was in “The Marvelous Wonderettes” is pretty much gone in this new production directed by Tom and Michael D’Angora. The production on the diminutive stage of the Kirk on Theatre Row mostly looks cramped and awkward unless the women are singing in formation. Alex Ringler’s choreography is predictably banal, and the jokes within it are ill-timed so they very rarely get a laugh. It’s always somewhat cringe-inducing to watch adults pretend to be kids, and here the acting is excessively broad. That these women would never be mistaken for high school students is partially obscured by the liberal application of foundation and the audience’s willing suspension of disbelief.
“The Marvelous Wonderettes” is anything but
All of this, however, could be easily overlooked if the music were well done. It’s the ragged vocalizing that undoes the show entirely. Each of the four women in the cast — Christina Bianco, Diana DeGarmo, Jenna Leigh Green, and Sally Schwab — is a strong singer in her own right; in fact, I’m a total fan of Bianco in her solo work. The music in this show, however, requires that the voices blend precisely; it is not a belting match for four divas. Music director William Wade was unable to get these four cabaret stalwarts, each with a distinctive and idiosyncratic voice, to sing effectively together. Worse yet, the producers made the misguided choice to outfit the women with body mics, and there’s a heavy hand on the sound board, with a lot of echo and reverb added, which are unnecessary and annoying, particularly for this style of music. The spotlight numbers where each woman is backed up by the other three fare better and showcase each of the singers’ unique voices and styles. These are really the highlight of the show.
For the rest of it, this musical trip down memory lane is far more tedious than marvelous.
THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES | Kirk Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St. | Wed.-Thu. at 8:15 p.m.; Wed. at 2:30 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $92.25 at telecharge.com or 212-239-6200 | Two hrs., 10 mins., with intermission