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'Wonderettes' a tuneful trip to the '50s and '60s

Some animals are instinctually wired for certain behaviors—to be aggressive, to be stealthy, to hunt in packs and hang upside down in the dark. We human animals, in a similar way, are wired for nostalgia, a weird sentimental longing to think about our past, to recall some place we once knew or some style of music with which we once had pleasant personal associations. It is to address such nostalgic urges that shows like The Marvelous Wonderettes are created.

The brainchild of Roger Bean, the popular off-Broadway jukebox musical just opened a four-weekend run at Santa Rosa's Sixth Street Playhouse. As blasts from the past go, this wistful romp through the radio hits of the '50s and '60s couldn't be much blastier. Wisely putting its emphasis on the music rather than the plot (there really isn't one), director Craig Miller, working with musical director Janis Dunston Wilson, honors the spirit of the music by casting four leading ladies who really know how to sing these tunes.

Betty Jean (Shari Hopkinson), Suzy (Julianne Lorenzen), Cindy Lou (Ashley Rose McKenna) and Missy (Katie Veale) are high school seniors, best friends whose bond begins to break as they form a one-night-only girl group to entertain at their 1958 senior prom.

Inside Springfield High's decked-out gymnasium (with a detailed set by Michael Carnahan), playfully outfitted in color-coded dresses (great costumes by Tracy Hinman Sigrist), the Wonderettes gradually reveal romantic rivalries and secret crushes, all of them coming to a boil as the girlish foursome mix pop-rock hits like "Mr. Sandman" and "Goodnight, Sweetheart, Goodnight" with such semi-forgotten tunes as "Born Too Late" and "Lucky Lips." Between the songs, there are audience-participation bits and some groan-inducing gags, many straying toward the giddily juvenile (guess what the acronym for "Springfield High Is Terrific" ends up spelling?).

After the intermission, the action jumps 10 years ahead to 1968, resuming at the class of '58's 10-year reunion, where the still-splintered Wonderettes—one of them extremely pregnant—have reluctantly reformed the group, now taking on hits like "Respect," "Leader of the Pack" and "Son of a Preacher Man." In an oddly surreal turn, the songs now mirror each member's life over the last decade.

The Marvelous Wonderettes, as a play, is as slight and fluffy as they come. Its chief strength is the nostalgic hit one gets from those songs, sung with spirit and charm by a cast that truly understands what makes them so much fun.

'The Marvelous Wonderettes' runs Thursday–Sunday through May 13 at Sixth Street Playhouse. 52 W. Sixth St., Santa Rosa. Show times vary. $15–$28. 707.523.4185.

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