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Theater Review: ‘Wonderettes’ are home for Christmas

Just a little more than a year ago, the Marvelous Wonderettes spent a summer at the Laguna Playhouse, entertaining audiences with their blasts from the past (circa 1958 to 1964).

Well, now it’s 1968, and they’re back to celebrate the Christmas holidays. These perky ladies with their feet firmly planted in Middle America, but with talent suggesting Broadway or Hollywood, are performing at a hardware company’s Christmas party this time. There’s enough story to nudge the plot along, but it’s those terrific voices that propel the show.

The Wonderettes are a creation of director and vocal arranger Roger Bean, who has assembled this version along with musical arranger Brian Baker.

It all plays out in Springfield (no state required, but doubtless somewhere in the heartland), where the girls work in various departments of Harper’s Hardware.

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Audiences who enjoyed the first “Wonderettes” visit will recognize three members of the quartet — Misty Cotton (Missy), Julie Dixon Jackson (Betty Jean) and Bets Malone (Suzy) — who return from the 2008 edition. Susannah Hall is the statuesque Cindy Lou this time around.

And, as she did a year ago, the bespectacled Cotton enthralls with her powerful voice, emanating from the smallest body on the stage. This time she’s a giddy newlywed, chirping to her hubby somewhere in the audience of Harper’s employees.

Malone, who doubles as dance captain, flirts with her guy in the tech booth, who flashes the lights in response. Jackson beautifully reprises her unlucky-in-love persona and group leader who keeps the quartet together.

Hall may be a new face in Laguna, but she’s actually a returnee to the show, having originated her character in the Milwaukee premiere.

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As a single vamp, she’s a terrific contrast to the other ladies.

The musical bill of fare opens with “Mister Santa,” a Christmas-themed takeoff on “Mister Sandman,” and includes some traditional numbers such as “Jingle Bells,” “Sleigh Ride” and “Winter Wonderland” (altered to “Winter Wonderettes”). There’s also the teasing Eartha Kitt standard “Santa Baby,” led by Cotton to a grinning audience member lured on stage for the bit. Three theatergoers also are brought front and center for an audience-participation segment of “Jingle Bells” which will literally bring the center section to its feet.

The elaborate setting — ostensibly built by the “guys in the lumber department” — is a masterpiece of holiday cheer from scenic designer Vicki R. Davis, who also created the blue-themed costumes. Janet Miller’s bouncy choreography and Baker’s upbeat musical direction enhance the experience.

The Wonderettes are still marvelous, and they deliver a jump-start to the Christmas season at the Laguna Playhouse.


TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Coastline Pilot.


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