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'The Marvelous Wonderettes' at Laguna Playhouse
As if in response to the midsummer heat, "The Marvelous Wonderettes" returns to captivate us, with an aerated glee that is virtually irresistible. In its splendid new Laguna Playhouse staging, Roger Bean's long-running hit about four singing archetypes at the 1958 senior prom has never felt more marvelous in its audience regard, or more wonderful to its nostalgic core.
The essential contours of this jukebox musical have scarcely changed since its 1999 Milwaukee Rep premiere, the smash 2003 run in Hermosa Beach and nearly two sold-out years at the El Portal Forum Theatre. It still unfolds at Springfield High on prom night, where our title canaries hectically sub as entertainment after a disciplinary debacle involving the Crooning Crabcakes.
Propelled by numerous '50s standards and a paper dream-catcher, the Wonderettes warble, clash and cavort in correlation to their individual personas and varying yens to be prom queen. That conceit, which ends Act 1 on a high, sets up Act 2, as the 10-year class reunion and deliberately pointed '60s chart-toppers serve up surprisingly affecting reversals.
What creator-director Bean and his exemplary forces do in Laguna is refine the populist concept to its zenith. Our first sight of Michael Carnahan's superb set -- a forced-perspective gymnasium complete with water fountains, crepe-papered girders and Springfield Chipmunk banners -- elicits a grin. Jeremy Pivnick lights it with candied expertise, and Cricket Myers' sound design keeps the canned accompaniment from distracting.
Most crucially, just as costumer Bobby Pearce pulls his fabulous designs for the Wonderettes' frocks from Butterick and TV Land, the triple-threat talents who wear them find authentic feeling even when joshing the iconography.
Playing bespectacled Missy, whose secret love provides the most surefire audience-participation device, the ever-amazing Misty Cotton radiates a hysterically enervated Donna Reed aspect that gives way to electrifying vocals. Darcie Roberts dons mantrap Cindy Lou's pumps with subtle assurance, her posing in the hilarious talent competition as droll as her amber-voiced intensity in Act 2 is arresting.
Their energies effortlessly meld with El Portal originators Julie Dixon Jackson and Bets Malone. Jackson imbues cut-up Betty Jean with delightful pugnacity and titanium pipes, while the priceless Malone turns gum-wielding Suzy into an ecstatic Eisenhower-era idealization, Barbara Billingsley on helium.
Seamlessly harmonizing under Brian Baker's musical direction, keenly executing choreographer Janet Miller's ingenious moves, they are sublime. So is this delicious confection. It opens off-Broadway in September -- don't miss your chance to catch a dream before the franchise goes global.