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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Vibrant Cast puts the Wonder in The Winter Wonderettes
at Arts West

Also see David's review of Avenue Q and his Interview with Ana Gasteyer

'Twas a time when homegrown holiday-themed cabaret shows with kooky characters were plentiful in Seattle, but lately we've seen producers rely on shows that have proven themselves in other markets. That doesn't make them better, and certainly, as written, writer/creator Roger Bean's The Winter Wonderettes is a fairly tepid cup of holiday cheer. But in the ingeniously talented hands of director/choreographer Troy Wageman and a vibrant cast, the show proves a fast and funny musical delight from the get go.

The Winter Wonderettes' slim excuse for a plot-line involves a foursome of game gals who have coordinated and perform the holiday party entertainment at a 1968 Christmas party held by their employer Harper's Hardware, somewhere in Anytown, USA. But the spirit of Scrooge is looming, when the promised holiday bonuses are supplanted with pink slips, as word of the store's closing leaks out. The Wonderettes see to it that the show goes on, and good new arrives just in time for the final Christmas chorus of "Winter Wonderland." With a plot so minimal as to make Plaid Tidings seem like Sondheim, director Wageman creates something of a Christmas miracle with the help of the comedic, vocal and dance skills of his quartet of Wonderettes.

As the perennially perky Missy, Amanda Carpp has a knock-out voice and an unforced sweetness, while Victoria Spero spices things up as the more worldly and cynical Cindy Lou, subtly conveying that her character might rather be out on a hot date. Kimberly McFerron is a riot as the oh-so-expecting Suzy, who's about ready to deliver during her hysterical tap-number to the Christmas novelty song "Suzy Snowflake." Rounding out the quartet is Roxanne DeVito as Betty Jean, that hard luck gal who can't land a man (think Rose Marie's Sally on the old "Dick Van Dyke Show") as she laments with vocal expertise on a few of the show's rare ballads. All four actresses capture the essence of the era they are portraying, earnestly performing their numbers without excessive winking at the satire inherent. The audience participation on Ring Christmas Bells" is a comedic highlight, among many fun bits.

Wageman keeps the staging zanily believable as the Wonderettes tackle about two dozen holiday tunes, including one by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty, "Christmas Cliches," which was written a few decades after the show takes place (yet oddly, the creator omitted "Turkey Lurkey Time," a natural from 1968's Promises, Promises). Kimberly Dare's musical direction produces some exquisite harmonies, reaching an apex with a skin-tinglingly lovely "Snowfall." Hopefully, spotty miking of the singers has been solved, and turning down the prerecorded musical accompaniment would also better support the singers. Jill Beasley's set and props are delicious send ups of what an office staff would come up with, as are Stacy Derk's tongue-in-cheek costumes.

If you seek some Christmas levity, laced with well sung holiday standards, then The Winter Wonderettes should clearly be on your family's holiday show-going list.

The Winter Wonderettes plays through January 30 at Arts West Playhouse, 4711 California Avenue SW, in West Seattle. For tickets/information go to www.artswest.org.



- David Edward Hughes



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