Penobscot Theatre Company’s production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” has all the necessary elements for a hit musical. Fantastic voices, clever choreography and a hit parade of classic pop songs. Christie Robinson, Brianne Beck, Melissa Hammans and Sara Dobrinich as the four-piece singing group from the 1950s and 60s all can deliver the goods.
So why does the show feel a little underwhelming? Perhaps it’s due to the fact that other musicals about a four-piece singing group from the 1950s that just finished a revived run at the theatre (the smash hit “Forever Plaid,” if you weren’t lucky enough to see it) set the bar a bit too high. Perhaps it’s the pacing, which clips along quickly in places, and drags in others.
Or — and this may be the best answer — the show itself is just not that good. For all the fun songs that writer Roger Bean crams into one hour and 45 minutes, that jukebox of hits can’t rescue a thin plot. Where “Plaid” was gleefully free of anything even remotely resembling thought-provoking character development, the drama surrounding the four women’s relationships just feels a bit boring. No one’s coming to see a show like “Wonderettes” to feel serious emotion. They’re coming to see four adorable girls sing and dance their little hearts out.
And, thankfully, that is what they end up doing. All four women are excellent vocalists — in particular Hammans, who possesses an expressive alto more suited to the soul and R&B laden songs of the second act, rather than the chirpy ’50s pop of the first act. Christie Robinson was clearly born with musical theater in her DNA, as her bell-like soprano rings out loud and clear throughout the Bangor Opera House, and her neurotic, love-struck cheerleader act is far and away the most entertaining part of the show. If there’s one thing that makes “Wonderettes” a moderate success, it’s the spunky, entertaining Robinson.
It’s not that “Wonderettes” isn’t a good show, mind you. It’s well-performed, and it looks great — Anna Marlies-Hunter’s colorful period dresses are a hoot. If you can get past the fact that the plot and the characters are as thin as paper — despite a clear attempt to make it a bit more three-dimensional — then you’ll enjoy every minute of it.