If you saw Roger Beans fizzy comedy The Marvelous Wonderettes in June at Actors Theatre of Charlotte and many of you must have, as tickets to the sequel have become unusually hard to get then Winter Wonderettes will offer you no surprises.
As we hear four young women sing two dozen holiday pop songs, we get the musical equivalent of a low-burning fireplace: a little warmth, a gentle glow, the comfortable feeling of being at home. Wonderettes follows the sacred and inspirational messages of the season that we get everywhere else in the same way a warm rice pudding ends a hearty dinner.
Opening night began with a different kind of joy: ATC executive director Dan Shoemaker won the N.C. Theatre Conferences Distinguished Career Award. Shoemaker, who has been active in local theater for more than three decades, noted he had much left to do and didnt plan to leave, retire or expire soon.
That was the meat of the evening; the soft-centered dessert followed. The sequel takes place six months after Marvelous, at Christmas of 1968. Betty Jean (Michelle Fleshman) works at Harpers Hardware, where this party takes place. Missy (Sarah Mack) has married her former high school chorus teacher, Mr. Lee (a volunteer hauled up from the audience as a foil during Santa Baby).
Cindy Lou (Lauren Marlowe Segal) plans to leave Springfield for an unnamed big city once more, and ever-pregnant Suzy (Karen Christensen) expects child number three. Except for a few lines about a wayward boyfriend and a faux crisis for Betty Jean, thats the story.
This marshmallow isnt as memorable as Marvelous, despite perkiness from the cast and director Billy Ensley.
First, the songs are too similar in tone to each other: Theyre all secular, snow- or Santa-based, and come from the second tier of Christmas music. (I didnt expect many sacred carols, but those are the finest Christmas songs.) A third of the numbers are about getting toys or presents, which makes this quartet seem relentlessly acquisitive.
Second, Bean repeats a few jokes and routines that were mildly funny in Marvelous but dont bear revival, and he doesnt bring new material to the table. Except the songs, that is, some of which are too new: All the Christmas Clichés was written 25 years after this musical takes place!
The casts well-matched voices and personalities always keep spirits high, with the deep-voiced Fleshman finding the single moment of pathos in Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day. I never got tired of the actresses. But if ATC schedules Veterans Day Wonderettes next season, Ill have to pass.
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