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The Marvelous Wonderettes review at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London – ‘performed with heart and warmth’

The cast of The Marvelous Wonderettes at Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London
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Few shows can be more highly gendered than The Marvelous Wonderettes. The design, by Emily Bestow, is ultra-feminine: the four young female performers wear candy-coloured prom dresses with puffed-out petticoats, as they sing and dance underneath a giant sparkly moon like Stepford Wives in training.

Created by Roger Bean, the first incarnation of Wonderettes was performed in 1999 and it has since received two Off-Broadway runs; this is its UK premiere.

Over 30 irresistibly catchy 1950s and 1960s pop songs, including Mr Sandman and It’s My Party, are packed into less than two hours and held together by a plot that is as light and fluttery as the climactic shower of confetti.

But it isn’t always entirely clear if Joseph Hodges’ remarkably peppy production is supposed to be pastiche or is being performed this way in earnest – it could do with a sharper edge in this respect.

The first act takes place at a prom in 1958 and the second at the Wonderettes’ 10-year reunion. While the 1960s numbers are on the whole less sugary, and some do hint at women’s lib, none of the women seems able to contemplate an existence that isn’t centred around men.

The four performers have a whale of a time with the songs, though, producing some powerful harmonies, and they inject their characters with as much personality as the wafer-thin book will allow.

Sophie Camble and Kara Taylor Alberts are both intensely charming as the hopeless romantic Missy and the unassuming Suzy; Louise Young is a semi-tough Betty-Jean, and as the preening pink princess Cindy-Lou, Rosie Needham gives a credible audition to be the next G(a)linda in Wicked.

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Theatrical brain candy performed with heart and warmth by a talented cast