Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London – until 12 May 2019
The Marvellous Wonderettes makes its UK debut at London’s Upstairs At The Gatehouse, a jukebox musical that first played Milwaukee in 1999, before its Off-Broadway arrival in New York some nine years later.
Canny casting directors would do well to make the trip to Highgate and catch the quartet of Sophie Camble, Rosie Needham, Louise Young and Kara Taylor Alberts. In a set list (for the evening is more akin to a revue than a musical) that spans the 1950s and 60s, the four women capture the era’s vocals magnificently.
But this all-American show is served heavy on the cheese – and American cheese doesn’t easily cross the Atlantic. The gleeful High School patter (shifted 10 years on for the second act) that links the songs could barely have entertained a modern US audience let alone a house (full, to be fair) of cynical Brits. And playing at the Gatehouse to an audience who appeared to be predominantly sexa and septuagenarians, the songs could not come quickly enough.
Lauren Ronan’s band puts in sound work throughout the evening – but stronger work on the reeds would have been appreciated. Many of the numbers had glorious saxophone lines when released all those decades ago but much of the melodies’ original magic is muted here. And while the cast is unquestionably magnificent, performer(s) of colour would not have gone amiss, particularly given that one of the second half’s big moments is a cover of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’.
Hey – the audience loved the songs though, brilliantly sung as they are, and at times there was something close to a zombie awakening as Stupid Cupid and You Don’t Own Me stirred the crowd into a foot-tapping frenzy.
And when the Wonderettes sing, the show is marvellous.
Runs until 12th MayPhoto credit: Kevin Ralph