The marvelous Winter Wonderettes are back, and spending the holidays at the La Mirada Theatre For The Performing Arts, bringing their delightful, tuneful blend of comedy, harmony, nostalgia, and seasonal melodies to old and young alike for yet another Christmas season.
The year is 1968, the season is Christmas, and the setting is Harper’s Hardware, the local emporium where Betty Jean has worked for the past dozen or so years. Store employees (that’s us, the audience) have gathered for the annual Holiday Happening, with entertainment provided by Springfield U.S.A.’s favorite daughters, the Wonderettes.
Winter Wonderettes features over two-dozen Christmas songs, including holiday faves “A Marshmallow World” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” all of them filtered through a 1960s musical lens. There are also the quartet’s affectionate squabbles, usually centered around some man or another, or on which of the four will get to sing lead.
The girls start the evening out with a clever reworking of their signature hit, “Mr. Sandman,” appropriately retitled “Mr. Santa.” As in their original incarnation, pregnant 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, brought to life each night by an unsuspecting audience member.
Costumer Bobby Pearce has designed a satiny holiday outfit for each Wonderette in her signature color—orange for Missy, green for Betty Jean, pink for Cindy Lou, and blue for Suzy, a hue which the Wonderettes’ sole blonde announces is “in honor of our friends of the Jewish persuasion” to whom she wishes a Happy HaNOOOka.
The familiar and not so familiar holiday gems sung by the Winter Wonderettes include 1941’s “Snowfall,” with its seductive slow jazz rhythms; “The Man with the Bag,” with its jitterbug rhythms; “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); and “¿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 Caribbean “(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 then concludes Act One with a torchy “Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day.”
Act Two opens with the gals donning color-coordinated felt antlers to sing “Run Run Rudolph.” Suzy, dressed as a snowflake (a hilarious Pearce creation), warbles “Suzy Snowflake,” does a cartwheel, and treats the audience to a sensational tap solo, courtesy of choreographer John Vaughan.
Other Act Two holiday favorites include “This Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “Jingle Bells,” “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve,” and “Santa Baby.”
The four Wonderettes are the cutely-campy creation/inspiration of writer/director Roger Bean, who 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. Three lucky theatergoers get to join the gals to provide the jingle-jangle in the show’s “Bells Medley.” Later, Missy’s groom “Mr. Lee” as Santa Claus, gets to enjoy the four Wonderettes competing for his attention with the sexy “Santa Baby.”
Creator-director Bean has so clearly delineated Suzy, Betty Jean, Missy, and Cindy Lou that their distinctive characteristics come out no matter which talented singer/actress performs them, and the foursome assembled in La Mirada are four of SoCal’s most gifted musical theater leading ladies.
Recreating the roles they originated at the El Portal Forum Theatre in 2007, and went on to perform in Laguna Beach two Decembers later, are Bets Malone as Suzy and Julie Dixon Jackson as Betty Jean. There is no more definitive Suzy than Malone, her signature voice always a treat for the ears and her comedic chops as terrific as they get. Jackson once again shows off her gorgeous belt of a voice and grade-A comic timing as feisty Betty Jean. Misty Cotton, Winter Wonderettes’ very first Missy in its workshop debut at Milwaukee Rep, has the glasses-wearing Missy’s cute geekiness down pat, and nobody does Missy’s quirky, jerky dance moves quite like Cotton, whose vocalizing is as good as it gets. Finally, appearing as a Wonderette for the very first time is the stunning Shannon Warne as Cindy Lou, having a field day bringing the Wonderettes’ resident vamp to sexy, saucy life and stopping the show with the absolutely gorgeous “All Those Christmas Clichés.”
Brian Baker and Bean’s vocal arrangements for the Wonderettes give Christmas theatergoers some of the best four part harmony they’ll hear this or any holiday season, accompanied by musical director/orchestrator Baker’s prerecorded tracks. Vaughan’s choreography is a winner as well, and features flamenco, mambo, rock and roll, twist, and Malone’s show-stopping tap solo. Scenic designer Kevin Clowes’ hardware store set is the most gorgeously detailed of the three designs I’ve seen, with more colored lights than you’re likely to view on any Southland stage this holiday season. Jean-Yves Tessier has created a fabulously festive lighting design, with Josh Bessom’s sound design making sure the Wonderettes sound as marvelous as they look. Sarah Wolfe gets highest marks for the girls’ wig, hair, and makeup design. Properties coordinator Terry Hanrahan has assembled a splendid collection of holiday props as well.
Buck Mason is general manager, David Cruise technical director, and Vernon Wilet production stage manager.
The evening concludes with a jaunty rendition of “Winter Wonderland,” retitled (you guessed it) “Winter Wonderettes.” There are many Holiday shows playing around town from now till Christmas, but there’s no better way to spend a melodic, comedic two acts of holiday magic than with the Winter Wonderettes.
La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Boulevard, La Mirada.
December 8, 2012
Photos: Michael Lamont