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‘The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On’ a true delight

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‘The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On’ a true delight (photo courtesy of Winterport Open Stage)

WINTERPORT – Theatergoers are being treated to some marvelous music in Winterport.

Winterport Open Stage has opened its 25th season with a production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” at the Samuel Wagner Middle School in Winterport. The musical, written and created by Roger Bean, directed and choreographed by Dominick Varney and with musical direction from Jason Cross, runs through Nov. 4.

The show – the fourth in the wildly popular “Marvelous Wonderettes” series – follows the formula set forth by the previous incarnations, using the titular girl group as the foundation upon which a structure of popular songs is erected. Like the others, it’s a fun nostalgia trip – a chance to venture down Memory Lane and experience beloved songs of yesteryear.

In “Dream On,” the Marvelous Wonderettes are returning to Springfield High School (go Chipmunks!) once again. This time, it’s 1969 – over a decade after graduation – and the quartet have come back to school to celebrate the retirement of their favorite homeroom teacher Mrs. McPherson.

The Wonderettes have traversed their own paths in the years since high school. Type-A Missy (Brianne Beck) now works as a teacher at the high school; she wound up marrying Mr. Lee, the girls’ old music teacher when they were students. Suzy (Nicolette Aliano) married her high school sweetheart and had a couple of kids, but employment issues and in-laws complicate her life. Betty Jean (Heather Astbury Libby) is as gossipy as ever, but she’s dealing with her own heartache – the on-again/off-again relationship with former flame Johnny. And Cindy Lou (Elena Burns) is adrift, looking for something more and determined to find it, no matter where she might have to look.

But when it turns out that Mrs. McPherson has left five semesters of grading undone, it’s up to the Wonderettes to stall for time while she catches up. And so, we get a medley of 1960s pop hits while we wait.

The second act features another leap forward. Now, it’s 1979 and the Marvelous Wonderettes have returned for their 20th reunion. The girls haven’t all been together since that retirement party, but while some things have changed, many more have remained exactly the same. It’s left to the group to rekindle those friendships and reexamine the choices that they’ve made – all of it against a soundtrack of ‘70s hits.

“The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” is a delightful trifle. There’s nothing complicated about the sweet, simple story being presented here. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Shows like this exist purely to entertain, but that particular purpose doesn’t diminish them in any way. Not everything has to be a grand commentary on big ideas. Sometimes, it’s nice to simply enjoy a charming show about friendship and listen to songs that you love for a couple of hours. That’s “Dream On.” It celebrates music and friendship and does so without apology. Nor should it apologize – it is meant to be fun and that is precisely what it is.

Varney’s innate musicality and knack for comic physicality are both conveyed in his direction of this show. Shows like this can often turn into more-or-less static affairs, but even with the multitude of musical numbers, Varney keeps the cast in briskly-paced, nigh-constant motion, introducing a welcome kinetic element to the proceedings. Cross’s musical direction is on point, as his performance on keyboard, with Tom Libby keeping the beat behind the drums.

Of course, the success of shows like this one ultimately comes down to the energy put forth by the cast. And this is one of the more energetic ensembles that you’re likely to come across. Beck imbues Missy with a high-strung charm; there’s a sweetness to her that belies the character’s inherent need for order. Aliano is a bubbly delight as Suzy, exuding a charming cluelessness that is dorky and endearing. Libby does wonderful work as the brash, brassy Betty Jean; her in-your-face attitude contributes greatly to some of the show’s funniest moments. Burns finds just the tiniest hint of sadness behind Cindy Lou’s bravado, along with the genuine courage of her convictions. But while they do fine work as individuals, it’s the way they come together as a group that really captivates. The Marvelous Wonderettes are truly more than the sum of their parts.

“The Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On” isn’t the kind of show meant to convey complicated messages or inspire complicated feelings. It’s about entertaining. It is about nostalgia and jokes and toe-tapping takes on the songs we hold dear. If you’re looking for a show that puts a smile on your lips and a song in your heart, then “Dream On” will be a dream come true.

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