OK, I'll admit it. I harbor a special fondness for shows featuring music from the 1950s, such as "Grease" or "Forever Plaid." You'd expect as much from someone whose e-mail address includes the phrase "gr8pre10der."
And few people know how to push that particular button more than Roger Bean, who created the Marvelous Wonderettes, a quartet of high school song leaders who've trod the boards of the Laguna Playhouse twice before and are back for a third visit, this time in a world premiere.
In the latest show, set in 1958, it's farewell to high school and their beloved Chipmunks athletic teams in "The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps & Gowns," which serves up another collection of '50s favorites as well as second-act songs from the 1960s as we catch up with the girls 10 years later, in 1968.
As before, Bean — who also directs — has stitched together a paper-thin story line around a collection of period numbers such as "Rock Around the Clock," "Dedicated to the One I Love" and "Graduation Day." Sure it's contrived, but what an enjoyable contrivance.
In the current Laguna show, we find two familiar faces from past productions — Misty Cotton as the bespectacled organizer Missy, and Bets Malone, an original cast member, as the blonde, vacuous Suzy, who's flunked "library."
They're joined by Lowe Taylor as the tall, flirtatious Cindy Lou (whose pronunciation of "skewel" is a hoot) and Jenna Coker-Jones as the merry prankster Betty Jean, who specializes in flatulence-related humor.
Together, they're, well, marvelous. All four project strong, robust voices and each gets several turns in the spotlight while backed up by the other three. And if you're a guy sitting in the front row, you just might temporarily join the act.
Audience interaction is a high point of the program, with two unsuspecting fellows worked into the plot as romantic interests. It's a gimmick that bolsters the overall enjoyment level of an already-terrific production.
In this version, Missy has a crush on her teacher, one William Lee — and Bean misses a great opportunity to include the '50s hit "Mr. Lee" into the repertoire. Cotton does, however, front an energetic "Don't Mess With Bill" number in the second act as the object of her affection squirms in the front row.
Each of the girls has her particular back story, and all are woven splendidly into the song-filled show, beautifully punctuated by musical director Michael Borth's four-piece combo.
And atmospherically, it's a visual treat as scenic designer Michael Carnahan has fashioned a showplace mounted inside a high school gym with banners dedicated to second- and third-place finishes.
"The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps & Gowns" takes a beautifully realized musical franchise and updates moves it in an evening of melodic nostalgia in a sparkling world premiere at the Laguna Playhouse.
TOM TITUS covers local theater for the Coastline Pilot.
If You Go
What: "The Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps & Gowns"
Where: Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays with weekend matinees at 2 p.m. and special 2 p.m. matinees on July 19, 26 and Aug. 9
Cost: $30 to $70
Call: (949) 497-2787 or visit lagunaplayhouse.com/