In a town where a 3-4 month run in a 99-seat theater can be considered a
smashing success, The Marvelous Wonderettes’ 16 month run at the El Portal
is nothing short of miraculous, and proof positive that even in much
maligned L.A., if you stage it right, they will come.

Now, just in time for the holidays, the Wonderettes are taking a month off
from their 200+ performance Marvelous High School Reunion show in order to
bring you their one-of-a-kind Christmas revue, Winter Wonderettes.

The Marvelous Wonderettes, if there’s anyone out there who still hasn’t
caught their show, are…beauty queen Cindy Lou, wise-crackin’ gum
chewin’ Suzy, shy gal Missy, and scrappy Betty Jean. As in their eponymous  
record breaker, Winter Wonderettes audiences are treated not only to two
or three dozen familiar tunes, marvelously and wonderfully performed by the
charismatic foursome, but also to their affectionate squabbles, usually
centered around some man, or which of the four will get to sing lead.

Winter Wonderettes unfolds at Harper’s Hardware store where Harper’s
Hardware Holiday Happening is…happening, and the girls start the evening
out with a smashing reworking of their signature hit, “Mr. Sandman,” retitled
appropriately “Mr. Santa.” As in their previous incarnation, Suzy’s boyfriend-
turned-hubby Richie is up in the booth sending her “I love you” light signals,
and Missy’s teacher-turned-boyfriend-turned-hubby Mr. Lee aka (Marry me)
Bill is in the audience, portrayed each night by an audience member.
Costumer Ann Closs-Farley has designed royal blue party dresses for the
Wonderettes, the color chosen (according to Suzy) “in honor of our friends of
the Jewish persuasion” to whom Suzy wishes a Happy HaNOOOka. (This is a
holiday show whose appeal is not limited to those of the Christian persuasion.)

The familiar and not so familiar holiday gems sung by the Winter Wonderettes

“Snowfall,” with its seductive slow jazz rhythms; “The Man with the Bag,”
which gets the Wonderettes to jitterbugging; “It’s Christmas Time All Over
the World,” with the Wonderettes wishing us Merry Christmas in a dozen or so
languages (helpfully holding up cards to let us know which language they’re
singing in); “¿Donde Está Santa Claus?,” which allows Suzy to mispronounce
Spanish as charmingly as she mispronounces Chanukah, accompanied by
the girls on castanets.

The “Christmas All Over the World” theme continues with Missy’s rendition of
“Mele Kalikimaka” (Hawaiian for Merry Christmas); Betty Jean’s hilariously
guttural “Oh Tannenbaum” (German for Oh Christmas Tree); and Cindy   
Lou’s Carribean “(We Wanna See) Santa Do the Mambo”. And what would
a Wonderettes Christmas show be without a rocking “Santa Claus is Coming
to Town”?  

Betty Jean sings a torchy “Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day.” The
girls don red and green felt antlers to sing “Run Run Rudolph” and Suzy,
dressed as a snowflake (another marvelous Closs-Farley creation), warbles
“Suzy Snowflake.”

The four Wonderettes are the cutely-campy creation/inspiration of
writer/director Roger Bean, and he has so clearly delineated the four that
their distinctive characteristics come out no matter which talented
singer/actress performs them.  Returning from The Marvelous Wonderettes
cast are L.A. theater gems Bets Malone as Suzy and Julie Dixon Jackson as
Betty Jean.  Malone’s Suzy is as adorable as ever, with her distinctive high
pitched voice, and belter Jackson couldn’t be better as feisty Betty Jean. 
Misty Cotton, who originated Winter Wonderette Missy in its very first
production, makes her El Portal debut in the role. Cotton has Missy’s
geeky/cute awkwardness down pat and like the terrific Malone and
Jackson, boy can she sing! Finally, fresh from her triumphant reinvention of
Laurey in Oklahoma, first time Wonderette Jill Van Velzer makes “don’t you
dare upstage me” Cindy Lou entirely her own. (Van Velzer sings an
absolutely gorgeous “All Those Christmas Clichés” that will bring tears to your
eyes.) Understudying all four Wonderettes is the lovely and mulit-talented
Lowe Taylor.

Bean has sprinkled magic moments throughout the show.  There’s Suzy’s
family tradition of “The Hiding of the Elf” and eating Spurkey for Christmas
dinner (that’s Spam in the shape of a turkey). There’s also audience
participation in several of the numbers, including most notably Missy’s groom
“Mr. Lee” as Santa Claus, who gets to enjoy the four Wonderettes
competing for his attention with the sexy “Santa Baby.”

Brian Baker and Bean’s vocal arrangements for the Wonderettes give
Angelinos some of the best four part harmony they’ll hear this or any
Christmas, accompanied by musical director/orchestrator Baker’s
prerecorded tracks.  Janet Miller’s choreography fits each song to a T, and
includes flamenco, mambo, rock and roll, twist, and a tap solo for the
sensational Malone as Suzy.  Be sure to notice how each Wonderette
executes Miller’s dance steps in character, Missy’s jerky moves (performed by
Cotton) a special treat. Victoria Profitt’s set design incorporates all the
Christmas elements you’d want to see, from a fireplace to wrapped presents
to mistletoe to the de rigueur Xmas Tree, for all of which Jeremy Pivnick has
created a festive lighting design. Cricket Myers (sound design) and
Fionnegan Justus Murphy (sound mixer) make sure the Wonderettes sound as
good as they look.

The Marvelous Wonderettes will return on January 11, and then will be taking
their hit show to the Big Apple this spring. In the meantime, their sellout
Winter Wonderettes will be enchanting audiences through January 5th. 

The evening concludes with a jaunty rendition of “Winter Wonderland,”
retitled (you guessed it) “Winter Wonderettes.”

I can’t think of a better way to spend a couple of hours at this time of year
than “Walking with the Winter Wonderettes.”

El Portal Forum Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
December 6, 2007
Photo: Michael Lamont

Comments are closed.