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Summer Garden Theatre’s The Marvelous Wonderettes

Songs from the ’50s and ’60s are the stars of this refreshing show

Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s The Marvelous Wonderettes is frothy, refreshing and a complete contrast to its most recent production, Chicago. The all-black set has given way to pastels, and the jailhouse trollops are replaced by 1950s’ suburban teenagers.
    The Marvelous Wonderettes are a singing quartet performing at their 1958 senior prom. In the second act, they appear 10 years later at their class reunion. That premise is the hook for a night of vintage and memory-evoking Top 10 hits. There is a thin storyline, but the songs that are the stars of the show.
    Director Jerry Vess keeps the action straightforward and brisk pace. As always at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, the musical accompaniment — with Ken Kimble conducting and on piano, Ahren Buchheisher on guitar and Larry Berry on drums — gives the show a strong foundation.
    The Wonderettes make a great ensemble and provide strong individual performances. As Missy, Jamie Erin Miller manages subtly and convincingly to grow from an awkward teenager into a still dorky but sweet adult. Miller charms and glows her way through the performance. Jennifer Grimes plays Suzy, a bit of a baby girl in high school, a girl having a baby 10 years later. Grimes adeptly mug her way through her role; think Lucille Ball.
    Katie Gardner is Cindy Lou, the near wild child who transforms into a responsible adult. Her emotional journey is the thinnest in the script, driven to incorporate the hits, “Leader of the Pack” and “Son of a Preacher Man” into the show. Colleen Kerrigan portrays Betty Jean, the stalwart friend to all, who tries to keep the harmony in both the group’s music and interpersonal dynamics.
    The music will be immediately recognizable. “Lollipop,” “Stupid Cupid,” “Mr. Sandman,” “Dream Lover,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” “It’s My Party,” “Rescue Me” and “Respect,” are among the 30 songs in the show. The Wonderettes perform all these well-known tunes superbly.
    Opening night had some severe sound problems in balance that made it difficult to understand the dialogue and to balance some of the songs but surely that was worked out.
    When working with such iconic years, playwright Roger Bean could have strengthened contrasts between 1958 and 1968 to show greater changes in the Wonderettes, their music and their life. Without that higher contrast The Marvelous Wonderettes doesn’t create new memories. But as a professional and pleasant walk down memory lane, it succeeds admirably.

Musical arrangements by Michael Borth. Directed by Jerry Vess. Music director Anita O’Connor. Choreographer by Peter N. Crews. Costume designer: Lori Tietz. Lighting designer: Dan Caughran. Technical director and sound engineer: Bob Foery. Stage Manager: Claire Brooks.

Playing thru July 24 at 8:30pm Th-Su at Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St. $18; rsvp early: 410-268-9212; www.summergarden.com.