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THEATER REVIEW

These `Marvelous' girls just wanna have fun

October 12, 2006|Lynne Heffley | Times Staff Writer

PROM night at Springfield High, 1958, and the gymnasium -- home to the Fighting Chipmunks -- is transformed by hearts-and-stars decor.

On stage, living out the night's "Marvelous Dreams" theme, are four prom queen hopefuls serving as the evening's entertainment, a last-minute replacement for the no-show Crooning Crabcakes.

Loaded with golden oldies -- "Born Too Late," "Dream Lover," "It's My Party" and a couple dozen more -- "The Marvelous Wonderettes" sparkles like sequins on chiffon at the El Portal Forum Theatre in North Hollywood.

In his newly revised tribute to girl groups of the 1950s and '60s, Roger Bean directs a cast of gifted musical theater veterans: Kim Huber as anxious, bespectacled Missy; Kirsten Chandler as sultry Cindy Lou, Julie Dixon Jackson (feisty Betty Jean) and Bets Malone (wide-eyed Suzy).

Bean's adroit staging, the quartet's exceptional vocal and physical finesse, the dynamics of Brian Baker's orchestrations, Allen Everman II's musical direction and Cricket S. Myers' pristine sound, make every moment -- comic and musical -- count.

Prom night begins as the thrilled teens, in floaty pastel home-ec dresses launch into "Mr. Sandman" in front of heart-decorated standing microphones, and then segue into "Lollipop," tripping off the baby-blue stage for their prop suckers. (A shout-out to costume designer Sharell Martin and Kurt Boetcher, whose cozily ambient school-gym set design continues into the lobby area.)

Trading lead, not always willingly, the girls belt, croon and rev their juicy four-part harmonies into overdrive. Each lyric, "bung, bung, bung," and "shoop, shoop" is coordinated with dippy arm gestures, bends, kicks and swoops (a delicious effort by choreographer Janet Miller, wickedly realized by the cast).

The girls shamelessly campaign for prom queen votes (the audience receives ballots upon entering the theater) and single out two patrons (plants?) to represent teachers, one of them Missy's secret passion.

As prom night and the girls' post-intermission 10-year class reunion unfold, so do their stories.

Cindy Lou exposes a surprise tattoo, a rendition of "Respect" acknowledges the group's journey into the self-aware '60s and Suzy, who tends to park her gum on her microphone, smiles beatifically up at (unseen) boyfriend Richie (lighting designer Jeremy Pivnick, contributing his usual stellar effort).

Throughout, surpassed only by the cast's soaring, sublime solos, the harmonies rock even when mercilessly stretched for comedic effect.

This frothy treat might be viewed through a scrim of misty nostalgia, but it's deft, funny, fresh and, well, marvelous.

lynne.heffley@latimes.com

*

`The Marvelous Wonderettes'

Where: El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 3 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Nov. 26

Price: $35 and $37.50

Info: (888) 505-7469, www.marvelouswonderettes.com

Running time: 2 hours

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