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A wintertime 'Wonder'

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Left to right: Shae Johnson, Jillian Van Niel, Katie Worley and Audra Cramer star in Oregon Cabaret Theatre's holiday production of “The Winter Wonderettes.” Photo courtesy of Judith PavlikPhoto by Judith Pavlik
 Posted: 2:00 AM November 23, 2012

"Winter Wonderettes," the sweet and bouncy Christmas production at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, brings back the engaging girl group from "The Marvelous Wonderettes," the Cabaret's successful production from summer 2011.

We pick up on the Wonderettes — Cindy Lou, Betty Jean, Missy and Suzy — as they are performing for the Christmas 1968 holiday party at Harper's Hardware. Life has moved along and the girls are a little older and wiser as they celebrate the musical moods of Christmas with pop songs from the '50s and '60s.

Suzy still is cute and breathlessly ditzy. Married to her high school sweetheart, Richie, she already is the mother of twins and pregnant again. ("I haven't slept for six months," she wails.) Missy, the sensible, practical one, is just back from a blissful honeymoon with Bill ("Mr. Lee"), her former high school music teacher. Betty Jean, always in the shadow of the pushy Cindy Lou, has worked at Harper's Hardware since graduation and suddenly is facing the break-up of her marriage. Cindy Lou is back in town, a bit rueful but still determined to leave and make a career in the big city.

Each girl has her own character arc in the play, dealing with her past, present and future. Plus there is a nice plot curve with an off-stage, Scrooge-like employer.

Creator, writer and arranger Roger Bean has strung a wonderful Christmas wreath of melodies around this story line. We go from '60s rock 'n' roll bounce like "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Jingle Bell Rock" to a dreamy close harmony in the lovely "Snowfall." There are familiar tunes like "Jingle Bells," "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and, of course, "Winter Wonderland." There are less familiar oddities such as "Mele Kalikimaka,—We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo" or "Run, Rudolph, Run" and sentimental ballads like "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?"

Director Valerie Rachelle keeps all this moving breathlessly with snappy staging and delightful choreography with flawless music direction by Meagan Iverson.

There is the now-expected Cabaret audience participation in the "Bells Medley" and in a positively delicious take on the old Eartha Kitt favorite, "Santa Baby." On opening night, the "volunteers" rose to the occasion, even to overcoming some prop glitches. They seemed to be having an absolutely wonderful time.

Shae Johnson as Suzy and Audra Cramer as Missy reprise their roles from "The Marvelous Wonderettes." Johnson, with a bluesy voice, stays in her perpetually wide-eyed, bubbly character through all of the shenanigans, especially in her solo "Suzy Snowflake" and the crazy "¿Dondé Está Santa Clause?" Cramer gives the usually staid Missy a mischievous sexy side in "This Christmas." Once that ring was on her finger, Missy could cut loose.

Kate Worley, who gave us emotionally complex Jeanne Coyne in the Cabaret's "What a Glorious Feeling," again brings depth and humor to the ostensibly hard-bitten Cindy Lou, especially in the poignant "All Those Christmas Clichés." Making her Cabaret debut, Jillian Van Niel as Betty Jean deftly incorporates the character's increasingly rough edges into numbers like "Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day."

Craig Hudson did the slyly nostalgic "hardware proscenium" set, and lighting and sound design are by Tom Freeman. Kerri Lea Robbins did the costumes and Victoria King supplied the seemingly indestructible bouffant wigs.

"Winter Wonderettes" runs through Dec. 31 at the Cabaret, with a dinner and a show package available for the New Year's Eve performance.

Dinner is available at 6:30 p.m. for evening performances and brunch at matinees. Reservations are required. Appetizers, beverages and desserts are available for service during intermission at all performances.

For tickets and reservations, visit www.oregoncabaret.com or call 541-488-2902.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.


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