LIVE: “The Marvelous Wonderettes” @ Capital Repertory Theatre

The Wonderettes
Catherine Davis, Courtney Balan, Dina DiCostanzo and Tempe Thomas (Photo by Joseph Schuyler)

It’s summer, and as artistic director Maggie Macinelli-Cahill explained in her opening night pre-curtain speech on Wednesday, “It’s our opportunity to kick back and relax a little bit.”

So if you’re looking for some Samuel Beckett or Arthur Miller, well, there are other places that you can go to fulfill that jones.

As you might expect from a show titled “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” this is light, summertime fare at Capital Repertory Theatre. It ain’t deep. Or tragic. Or something that might stay with you for a couple of days.

But it is fabulously frothy, frilly and, yes, flat-out fun. It’s a cotton-candy-colored jukebox musical that’s custom made to take baby-boomers on a time-travelin’ trip back to the ’50s and ’60s.

In shorthand, writer-director Roger Bean has concocted a four-woman musical. The first act is set in the high school gymnasium decked out for Springfield High School’s 1958 prom. The four girls are the typical archetypes: Cindy Lou Huffington (played by Dina DiCostanzo) is the snooty, sexy, beauty queen; Betty Jean Reynolds (Tempe Thomas) is the wise-cracking smart aleck; Suzy Simpson (Catherine Davis) is the blond girl-next-door; Missy Miller (Courtney Balan) is the nerdy, awkward outcast of the bunch.

Michael Carnahan’s set design is perfect, right down to the basketball hoops, the white porcelain drinking fountains, the scoreboard behind the crepe paper streamers and the requisite cheesy mirror-ball overhead. You can almost smell the body odor when one of the characters opens the locker room door.

The first act is packed with crackerjack laughs. Although there’s nothing highly original, it mines the ’50s mindset for a lotta laughs as well as a goldmine of musical nuggets.

The second act features the same foursome back in the same high school gym a decade later for their ten-year reunion – revealing all that has happened. It doesn’t work quite as well, in large part because writer Bean has traded in the snappy quips for lessons learned.

But the second act doesn’t resonate quite as deeply on a musical level, either. And a large part of that problem is the vocal miscasting of the songs. For instance, Thomas and Davis (check out her wail on Van McCoy’s R&B gem, “That’s When the Tears Start”) dig deepest into the well of soul music, but DiConstanzo gets handed Dusty Springfield’s wailin’ “Son of a Preacher Man,” the most soul-soaked song of the show.

The unsung heroes of the show are the behind-the-stage band – keyboardists Brian Baker and Greg Brown with drummer Gary Burke and guitarist David Malachowski. You never see them – even at the curtain call – but they make the music come alive.

AND – OK, perhaps it’s not fair to comment on the fabulous performance of Bob Block on opening night – after all, he was an audience member dragged onto the stage – but he was killer, nearly stealing the show.

Go Chipmunks!

“The Marvelous Wonderettes” at continues at Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany through Sunday, August 1.

Michael Eck’s review in The Times Union
Carol King’s review in The Daily Gazette

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