(Off) Broadway at the Beck:

Jukebox musicals on (and off) Broadway today are about as pervasive as simple love songs on radios of the 1950’s and 60’s. This month at the Beck, you can get both for the price of one in the upcoming production of The Marvelous Wonderettes.

Judging by opening night’s dancing baby boomers and gen Y-ers alike, it’s clear that the golden age of pop music still lives inside a lot of American audiences. But the “jukebox musical” genre has gotten a pretty bad rep critically—and with good reason. With thin, predictable plotlines tied together only by unrelated and re-purposed pop songs, the “jukebox musical” doesn’t push any boundaries or show us anything new. Of course, we know that adage that there’s nothing new under the sun, and it’s true; adaptations often stand alone as beautiful, entertaining stories in and of themselves. But on top of the jukebox movement, the Disney empire has simultaneously been converting Shrek, Mary Poppins, The Little Mermaid and so many more Disney classics into stage musicals with varying degrees of artistic and box office success. It seems this unsurprising recycled material in general is overstaying its welcome.

There. I said it. My bias is out there. But in an attempt to strip myself of it, I know that if it wasn’t for the admirable work of artists like four wonderettes at the Beck, singing, dancing and smiling their taffeta off, I’d feel more disconcerted.  As it stands, bring on the bubble gum! These girls know how to use what they’re working with, and their hard work and good instincts are obvious.

Lakewood’s lucky to have Aimee Collier, Nikki Curmaci, Theresa Kloos, and Caitlin Elizabeth Reilly (including her absolutely adorable choreography.) Sure, they’re playing stereotypes, but director William Roudebush’s casting and direction shows each actor’s strengths. Kloos showcases her delicate soprano voice (paired with hilarious unexpected moments of belting and some well-planned audience interaction). Reilly’s knack for comedy is front and center. Collier and Curmaci master the art of mean-girl cattiness— the magnetic Curmaci using passive-aggressive prom queen jabs while Collier does well to show Betty Jean’s more…  blunt side.

The first act is fun enough, set in a gymnasium for their 1958 senior prom. But it’s the second act that I found myself really looking forward to, knowing there would be a ten-year reunion of those same quirky high-schoolers I came to love in the first act, despite (or maybe partly because of) the bright colors contrived song cues.

Find out for yourself what can happen ten years after their senior prom.

Tickets are $28 for adults, $25 for seniors (65 and older), $17 for students (with valid ID), and $10 for children (12 and under). An additional $3 service fee per ticket is applied at the time of purchase. Preview Night on Thursday, September 15, is $10 with general admission seating. Group discounts are available for parties of 13 or more. Purchase tickets online 24/7 at www.beckcenter.org or call Customer Service at 216.521.2540, ext. 10. Beck Center is located at 17801 Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, just ten minutes west of downtown Cleveland. Free onsite parking is available.

Beck Center’s production of The Marvelous Wonderettes is presented through special arrangement with Steele Spring Theatrical Licensing and is sponsored by Cox Communications, Ohio Arts Council and Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.

And read more about off-Broadway and the jukebox musical in the meantime with these selections available at the Lakewood Public Library:

Off-Broadway musicals since 1919 : from Greenwich Village follies to The Toxic Avenger

Something in the air : radio, rock, and the revolution that shaped a generation

Lauren Fraley

Lauren Joy Fraley is a recent graduate of Bowling Green State University where she studied Theatre and Arts Management. After working for the Children's Theatre of Charlotte, NC and touring with CLIMB Theatre based out of Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, she is now working in the Community Engagement and Education Department at PlayhouseSquare and has returned to living in Lakewood where she grew up.

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Volume 7, Issue 19, Posted 8:27 AM, 09.21.2011