Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Winter Wonderettes
Manatee Players
William S. Oser | Season Schedule


Graphic Courtesy of Manatee Players
I don't mind saying that it was with some trepidation that I entered Manatee Performing Arts Center to attend the first Saturday matinee of Producing Artistic Director Rick Kerby's production of Winter Wonderettes. With COVID-19 raging way beyond what it was when rehearsals began, I thought that canceling might be a wise choice. It turned out that all possible safety measures are in place: there were only four other groups in attendance, with everyone masked and spread out over a 400-plus seat theater; actresses all wear full face shields; and tracks are in use as opposed to a live band which is the norm for this company. There are three options to view this production: live attendance as described; several drive-in nights where the performance is live-streamed so that people in cars can enjoy; and home-streamed. Chief Executive Officer Janene M. Amick advised me that ticket sales are picking up in all categories.

I am not usually a fan of jukebox musicals and it might be that any other year I would find Winter Wonderettes, written and created by Roger Bean, an overload of sugar. The premise is that the girl group, featured in Mr. Bean's previous musical The Marvelous Wonderettes, is performing a holiday set for Harper's Hardware Holiday Christmas Party. Backstories from the original version carry forward and new shtick is on stage as well. Excellent vocal arrangements of Christmas music familiar and less so provide exactly what I need this traumatic year.

Kerby has assembled a cast of four, two regular stars with this company and two that will soon be, if they keep at it. The setting by In House Productions is a lavish one for what is basically an Off-Broadway sized musical, and the gorgeous costumes are by Suzy Sajec.

Michelle Anaya portrays Betty Jean, Sara Cassidy is Suzy, Genesis Perez-Padilla makes her MPAC debut as Cindy Lou, and Shannon Wright rounds out the cast as Missy. Ms. Anaya and Ms. Cassidy are the established stars, Ms. Perez-Padilla is welcome back anytime, and Ms. Wright is a discovery having only played a couple of supporting roles at this company so far. The singing is sensational, save for a few minor slips due either to the shields, which can make hearing the singers harder, or the difficulty of singing to tracks, which is always much challenging than working with a live band.

After an introductory "Mr. Santa" (to the tune of "Mr. Sandman"), a "Rockin' Christmas Medley" shows that all four performers can really sing. Michelle Anaya leads "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree," Shannon Wright sings "Jingle Bell Rock," Genesis Perez-Padilla gets "Little Saint Nick," and Sara Cassidy has "A Marshmallow World." Other strong solos include Ms. Wright's "Mele Kalikimaka," Ms. Perez Padilla's "We Want to See Santa Do the Mambo" (and everyone does), Ms. Cassidy's "Donde Esta Santa Claus?," and Ms. Anaya's bluesy "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?" I saw The Marvelous Wonderettes a couple of years ago as summer fare with a professional cast, and this cast at MPAC is every bit their equal, maybe better.

I understand that COVID-19 is suppressing all activities, but if you find yourself in need of some holiday cheer, you need only look to Manatee Performing Arts Center to find lots and lots.

Winter Wonderettes runs through December 20, 2020, at Manatee Center for the Performing Arts, 502 3rd Ave W., Bradenton FL. For tickets and information, call 941-748-0111 or visit manateeplayers.com.

Cast (in alphabetic order)
Betty Jean: Michelle Anaya
Suzy: Sara Cassidy
Cindy Lou: Genesis Perez-Padilla
Missy: Shannon Wright


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