The new production of “The Marvelous Wonderettes” at the El Portal Forum Theater is not only an expertly wrought showcase of ’50s and ’60s pop music, it is also brimming with a quality sometimes lacking in current shows: It’s tremendously fun. Writer-director Roger Bean has created an affectionate valentine to the era, replete with charming characters and wry humor, but it’s the four excellent performers who make this show shine. The cast — all musical theater pros — is exceptional, with lovely voices and terrific comic timing. The show is a delightfully good time.
It’s the 1958 Springfield High School senior prom, and the Marvelous Wonderettes are providing the entertainment. Anxious, controlling, yet well-meaning Missy (Kim Huber) tries to keep her cohorts focused on their choreography, with limited success. Suzy (Bets Malone) is distracted by her boyfriend running the light board. She puts the gum she’s constantly chewing on the mic when she sings. Cindy Lou (Kirsten Chandler) tries to steal the show, just like she tried to steal Betty Jean’s (Julie Dickson Jackson) boyfriend, but the irascible B.J. isn’t about to let her get away with either offense.
Jackson is bluntly hilarious as the vengeful B.J., and her tearful rendition of “It’s My Party” demonstrates pretty much what that song was made for. Chandler is great as the ambitious Cindy Lou, who tries to project a particularly ’50s vision of female stardom, an audio-animatronic picture of frozen cheer. She’s even better in the ’60s numbers, seemingly channeling Cher, her eyes wide with showbiz emotion, in “Son of a Preacher Man.”
Malone is a joy as Suzy, and her Woody Woodpecker laugh is contagious. She’s so convincing as the low-key, likable character that when she suddenly revs up and knocks “Respect” out of the park, belting it out with the best of them, it’s both an impressive piece of singing and a satisfying turn in Suzy’s story. Huber is fantastic as the somewhat repressed Missy, offering a nuanced perf of awkward moments and silent stress overcome by love. Her singing on “My Secret Love” is an astonishing revelation, and her suddenly angry version of “You Don’t Own Me” amusingly shows the steel beneath her meek facade.
Janet Miller’s choreography is superb, from things as sublimely silly as goofy shoulder thrusts to the ornate collection of moves illustrating the story in “Leader of the Pack.” Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting captures a multiplicity of moods, and Kurt Boetcher’s prom set is detailed and effective.