IF YOU GO
What: Musical revue of holiday songs sung by an all-girl quartet
When: 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday through Dec 31; no shows Dec. 24 & 25.
Where: 2200 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel
Cost: $42 for adults, $20 for child 16 and under; $6 toll onto Sanibel
Information: BIG ARTS Marks Box Office at (239) 395-0900, Strauss Theater box office at (239) 472-6862 or bigarts.org
Something Else: Special New Year's Eve performance with champagne toast and other goodies; $75, starts at 9 p.m.
Interact: Request a seat in the front row or on the aisles if you want to interact with the cast
On the Web: Sign up to receive more theater news from the Stage Door blog via email.
SANIBEL — It snowed on Sanibel Friday night. "Winter Wonderettes" closed its opening night in a cloud of white thanks to the magic of theater. The real storm came earlier - a gale of laughter that shook the walls and left patrons gasping for breath. Hard to believe a revue could do that - but it did.
"Wonderettes" is one of ten musicals Roger Bean created for the Milwaukee Rep. The show blends standards like "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" and "Jingle Bell Rock" with lesser-known tunes like "We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo" and "Run, Rudolph Run." It all comes packaged around the 1968 Harper's Hardware holiday variety show - and a missing Santa. (Broadway Palm produced a version in 2009.)
Understand - "Winter Wonderettes" is neither deep nor especially well-written (the best joke involves "Spurkey" - SPAM + turkey). Taken separately, the tunes might be worth $1.99 on a novelty Christmas sampler disc at Best Buy. Here, wrapped in shiny, glittering paper, chirped by four svelte and sexy songbirds and performed with a knowing wink at the material's inherent cheese - it is a holiday masterpiece up that puts Aunt Edna's bourbon balls to shame. | Meet the girls - and hear them sing - in this brief clip from FOX 4
Director and choreographer Michael Stanek, who BIG ARTS imported from New York, attacks the show with all the vigor of a litter of kittens going after a newly decorated Christmas tree. He makes the show not just an absolute blast to watch - but a holiday experience right up there with the mythical best party you ever went to.
Four talented singers and actresses - Cassandra Nuss, Samantha Rotella, Anne Chamberlain and Annie Freres - prove more than up to the task of helping Harper's Hardware host a holiday happening. (The characters have names and a single personality trait each, but neither prove important.)
Stanek celebrates the material; his bouncy choreography makes the quartet feel like a cast of a dozen - and the inventive patterns never bore. Better - the routines come with saucy extras that add spice to the sitcom-simple dialogue. The girls chatter like magpies even while changing the sets - they're silly, the show's silly - and it all adds up to fun.
A lightning quick pace sees the jokes, sight gags (kazoos and leis during "Mele Kalikimaka") and over-the-top silliness (horrendous Spanish accents and an eye-searing pancho for "Donde Esta Santa Claus?") whip by like the last days on the shopping calendar.
The actresses excel at lifting the material. Freres sparkles as a bossy manager going through a divorce; sit in the front row if you want to flirt with her - but watch out - she's definitely on the rove. Chamberlain brings a sweet cuteness to her ditzy blonde - wait for her flurry of tap-dancing and the sounds of "Suzy Snowflake." Nuss hauls out a ooh-la-la Santa nightie - and ignites the stage (and one excited audience member) with a sexy rendition of "This Christmas."
Beyond the hilarity - the show has a several quiet, still moments that resonate. Freres delivers on plaintive ballad "Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day" as a first act curtain number (the taped music fought her every step of the way though, one of the night's few burned-out bulbs).
As was the case in the 2009 Broadway Palm production, Rotella delivers the night's best number. Her soaring, powerhouse voice brings the house to an absolute hush as she pours her heart out though "All Those Christmas Cliches." In those moments - the show's wisp of a message hits: appreciate all you have - and hold it dear.
William Davis decks the set in glittering snowflakes, lights and more. Two enormous rotating stands have huge colorful presents on one side and a fireplace and a gaudy tree on the other. David A. Sexton strings lights over everything that doesn't move - and some stuff that does - including a flickering fireplace and a candelabra.
Ryan J. Moller's delightful costumes take blue ("for our friends of the Jewish persuasion," natch) from crayon to couture. Rotella vamps in a silver top and slinky midnight velvet miniskirt, while Nuss gets an icy blue empire waist and morphs into the sexiest accountant you ever did see. Perhaps the loveliest might be a rose pattern on Freres - with a delicate silver bow tied at the back.
Every part of the show delights, fascinates and amuses. Standards, novelty tunes and forgotten jukebox hits whizz by like tinsel in a snowstorm. A charming quartet of singer/actresses delivers a clever, witty twist on a silly holiday ditty that becomes more than the sum of its parts. Dive into this pile of Christmas presents - there's sure to be something you like.