BWW Review: WINTER WONDERETTES Takes You On a Delightful Holiday Trip at Cumberland County Playhouse
There's no better way to ease into the hijinks and hubbub of the holiday season than with a nostalgic trip down memory lane with the awesomely talented, tremendously charming and oh-so-delightful quartet, aka the Marvelous Wonderettes, in Roger Bean's confectionary Winter Wonderettes, the seasonal follow-up to his popular The Marvelous Wonderettes, which first introduced us to Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Suzy and Missy.
Played with professionalism and abundant warmth by Heather McCall, Jess Griffin, DeAnna Etchison and Hannah Hays at Crossville's Cumberland County Playhouse, where they'll be holding forth in fine Christmastime fashion through December 22 (so you should have plenty of time to figure out the perfect opportunity to work a performance into your own jam-packed holiday schedule), the Wonderettes will whisk you away from the travails of the real world in the 21st century to a hardware store's annual seasonal fete where the surprises - and the musical hits - just keep on coming way back in the 1960s.
Inspired by the girl groups phenomenon of an earlier era, Winter Wonderettes - like the other titles in this particular genre: Marvelous Wonderettes, Marvelous Wonderettes: Caps and Gowns and Marvelous Wonderettes: Dream On - seems to be a lighter than air holiday happening. But the genuine sense of friendship and bon homie that fills the moments between the exquisitely performed musical numbers is certain to strike a chord at this most wonderful time of the year.
Directed with style by Britt Hancock, who previously directed the same four women in The Marvelous Wonderettes at CCP, Winter Wonderettes is heartfelt and moving, while at the same time uproariously funny and entertaining. The characters may seem broadly drawn at first blush, but give them a chance to work their way into your heart and Bean's four vividly crafted women will delight you with their unique sensibilities and zestful approach to life. And if you're at all like me - and you grew up captivated by The McGuire Sisters and The Lennon Sisters, or The Andrews Sisters before that or The Pointer Sisters of a later time - you will fall in love with Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Suzy and Missy long before intermission rolls around.
Credit goes to Hancock (and musical director extraordinaire Ron Murphy) of course, for bringing the four women under his direction together in the first place and for achieving the amazing alchemy that happens when a quartet of the right actors are paired with the right script that allows them to transcend what might have been accomplished otherwise. And, make no mistake about it, the four women who bring the characters in Winter Wonderettes to life are, in fact, rather wondrous.
McCall is all sex appeal and stunning allure as the slightly scandalous Cindy Lou, while Griffin is officiously appealing and disarming as Betty Jean (who's practically the vice president of Harper's Hardware - the growing business concern at whose holiday party we are all guests) and they create a genuinely heartfelt camaraderie between each other that is palpable. Etchison is deliciously off-kilter and off-beat as the very pregnant Suzy, whose childlike innocence belies the fact that she and husband Richie obviously can't keep their hands off each other. And Hays is at once riotously funny and startlingly authentic as Missy, the stern taskmaster of the quartet who somehow manages to keep the show-within-a-show on time and on-target despite a missing Santa, a disappearing elf and feuding egos.
With much talent and ingenuity, the Wonderettes deliver a satisfying holiday musical which is sure to soothe your frayed nerves and to infuse your own celebrations with much verve and energy, while they sing from a score that includes "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town," "Jingle Bell Rock," "Run, Rudolph, Run" and "Santa Baby," sometimes inviting audience participation in the proceedings by inviting some game individuals to join them onstage for the festivities.
There is ample laughter and good cheer to be found in the two hours of holiday fun and the show is certainly heartwarming and sweetly nostalgic. Kathryn E. Cook's evocative scenic design provides the perfect setting for the show, while Andy Wallach dresses his four performers in period perfect, color coordinated 1960s style, while Jensen Crain-Foster's gorgeous wigs are otherworldly in their towering perfection.
Truth be told, by the time the events draw to a close and the four women perform "Winter Wonderland" with the lyric of "walking with the Winter Wonderettes," there's a very good chance you'll find yourself puddling up amid all the emotions conjured up by the four magical and altogether marvelous Wonderettes. It's the ideal way to jumpstart your own holiday happenings! Ho, ho, ho! - indeed.
Winter Wonderettes. Book by Roger Bean. Directed by Britt Hancock. Musical direction by Ron Murphy. Stage managed by Katy Fagiolo. Presented by Cumberland County Playhouse, Crossville. Through December 22. For details, go to www.ccplayhouse.com or call (931) 484-5000 for reservations. Running time: 2 hours (with one 15-minute intermission).