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LA Theater Review

The Marvelous Wonderettes

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The relatively new genre of jukebox musicals has spawned its share of crassly conceived tripe, from Mamma Mia! to All Shook Up. Thankfully, writer-director Roger Bean's irresistible salute to high school high jinks and bebop chart-toppers of the 1950s and '60s is unquestionably a leader of the pack. Languishing, due to legal quagmires, in theatrical purgatory since its two-week run in Hermosa Beach in 2003, the show has triumphantly risen like the phoenix in a retooled version. Three champion performers from the prior staging (Bets Malone, Kim Huber, and Kirsten Chandler) are joined by the equally accomplished Julie Dixon Jackson to deliver scintillating comic characterizations and knock 32 jukebox classics out of the park.

Besides the consummate skill evident in every aspect of this production, what sets Bean's vehicle apart from the glut of uninspired songfests are the disarming characters and a smidgen of plot. We follow the trajectories of four coed cuties from 1958 prom night at Springfield High, Middle America, U.S.A., to their 1968 class reunion. Gum-snapping pixie Suzy (Malone), nerdy but wannabe-cool Missy (Huber), brassy extrovert Cindy Lou (Chandler), and mischievous Betty Jean (Jackson) are candidates for prom queen. The girls also form a singing quartet, tapped to perform at the prom. They jubilantly strut their stuff throughout the first act, and the theatre audience marks ballots for prom queen, revealed just prior to intermission. In Act II, the 20-something pals reunite to sing together again and share the outcomes of the puppy-love romantic yearnings that were revealed in Act I.

These vocally prodigious performers harmonize with panache, supported by the buoyant music direction of Alan Everman II. The performers' earnest commitment to the nostalgic music and lyrics resurrects the glorious sounds of the period, layered with a slight tongue-in-cheek veneer, as they revel in such tunes as "Allegheny Moon," "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight," "Mr. Lee," and "You Don't Own Me." Janet Miller's inspired choreography is a scrumptious pastiche of yesteryear's styles, tinged with just enough exaggeration to work as affectionate camp. Kurt Boetcher's kitschy environmental set is boffo, Jeremy Pivnick's lighting is picture-perfect, Jeff Weeks' wigs are as cool as can be, and Sharell Martin's retrograde pastel costumes are a hoot, particularly when the gowns are matched with color-coordinated lollipops as the gals croon — what else? — "Lollipop." Sweet is the word.

Presented by Marvelous Dreams LLC, David Elzer, and Peter Schneider at the El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Thu.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 p.m. Oct. 6-Nov. 21, 2007. (888) 505-7469. www.marvelouswonderettes.com.

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