REVIEW: THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES (Upstairs at the Gatehouse) ★★★★

The Marvelous Wonderettes is a musical comedy written and created by Roger Bean. This multi-award winning show started life in 1999 as a one-act piece specifically written for the intimate black box space at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Since then the show has grown into a fully realised two-act musical heading back to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater in 2001 for an extended run before a Los Angeles production opened in 2006 and ran for two years receiving Ovation nominations and awards. The show had its New York premiere in 2008 at the Westside Theatre and ran until 2010 before re-opening at Off-Broadway’s Theatre Row in 2016 and closing this January. After these two extensive Off-Broadway runs, The Marvelous Wonderettes receives its UK Premiere in a glittering new production Upstairs at the Gatehouse.

The Marvelous Wonderettes takes a cotton-candied musical trip down memory lane to the 1958 Springfield High School Prom, where we meet The Wonderettes: four girls with hopes and dreams as big as their crinoline skirts. When called upon to perform at their senior prom as a last minute replacement, Springfield High Songleaders Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy and Suzy, rally together to entertain their classmates in four-part harmony. The show follows their lives and loves from Prom Night to their 10-year Reunion. Featuring over thirty hit songs from the 1950s and 1960s by artists such as Aretha Franklin, Neil Sedaka, Connie Francis and Dusty Springfield, including “Stupid Cupid”, “Son of a Preacher Man”, “I Only Wanna be with You”, “Secret Love”, “Lipstick on your Collar”, “Respect”, “Rescue Me”, “Dream Lover” and “Heatwave”, The Marvelous Wonderettes is fun for the whole family!

The Upstairs at the Gatehouse production stars Sophie Camble (White Christmas, Chess and 42nd Street) as Missy, Rosie Needham (Legally Blonde) as Cindy Lou, Louise Young (Mamma Mia!) as Betty Jean and Kara Taylor Alberts (The Wind in the Willows) as Suzy. As Missy, Sophie Camble has a beautiful soprano voice and her performance of “Secret Love” is a lovely moment in Act One. Rosie Needham as Cindy Lou proves she’s every bit the popular mean girl with a heart with her performance of “Lucky Lips” and boyfriend stealing antics throughout the show. Louise Young as Betty Jean is an ease to watch onstage. Her presence and characterisation strong throughout, I found my eye drawn to her during songs to watch her reactions to the other girls singing. Such a fun character that cumulates in a hilarious Act Two drunken performance of “That’s When The Tears Start” and an impressive belt in “It’s My Party”. Kara Taylor Alberts as Suzy was a lot of fun. In love with the lighting guy Ritchie Stevens, Suzy fumbles her way through the show with impressive turns in all her solo vocal parts and a wonderful performance of “RESPECT” at the end of the show. Individually, all four actors are outstanding but their strength in this production lies in their ability to sing in harmony and blend with each other and I’m delighted to report they rise to this challenge wonderfully.

At the start of the show, all four girls are hustled onstage the stage and sing the well-known hits “Mr Sandman” followed by a medley of “Lollipop” and “Sugartime” as they introduce themselves. In such a small venue with the audience very close to the actors, everything is noticed and I found their energy and presence lacking a little at this early stage of the show. This may have been a result of nerves but I felt a stronger larger-than-life confident opening would have had the audience siding with the cast from the beginning rather than easing into the characters and story throughout the first few numbers. I’m happy to say this dip in energy lasted only a moment and before long the audience was tapping along and involved with the story completely.

This production of The Marvelous Wonderettes features a brilliant combination of expert musical direction by Lauren Ronan and careful sound design by Phil Wilson ensuring the audience can hear every sung line, every solo and all spoken dialogue with ease. Equally as brilliant was director Joseph Hodges use of the space, which never saw the actors standing in the same position or presenting their songs in the same way. Upstairs at the Gatehouse is a small intimate space and Hodges use of it was varied and extremely effective. Also his choice of having unsuspecting audience members play various supporting roles in the show was a lot of fun!

The Marvelous Wonderettes is a fun filled musical comedy with so many well-known and loved songs from the 50s and 60s and the Upstairs at the Gatehouse production hits all the rights notes. The show really is fun for the whole family. Bring the grandparents, bring the kids, everyone loves The Marvelous Wonderettes!

Reviewed by Stuart James

INTERVIEW: THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES talk about bringing the 50’s & 60’s to London


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