On Friday, December 17th, Covered Bridge Theater Company at Cecil College welcomed a large audience to the Maryland premier of WINTER WONDERETTES. The Maryland winter weather cancelled the opening night production, but the audiences attended in full force on Friday. They were not disappointed.
The plot has a Nunsense-like feel to it as we join the Harper’s Hardware employee Christmas party with entertainment provided by the four female employees known as the Wonderettes. This sequel to the MARVELOUS WONDERETTES also set in the 1960’s takes the same high school friends, Betty Jean (Serenity Rowland), Cindy Lou (Justine Espiritu), Missy (Ashley Sangret) and a very pregnant Suzy (Cindy Zern), and uses audience participation to bring a warm and amusing production to those of us in the audience who braved the cold.
Harper’s Hardware was decked out in simple large gift boxes which then are opened during the initial musical number to reveal fireplace and Christmas tree areas both of which serve as clever locations for props and costume pieces as the entertainment continues. Hanging holiday ornaments from the light bar and oversized red and green Christmas tree lights serving as footlights ‘trimmed’ the set and provided the cast with a holiday themed playing area. Both Kelly Rice (Scenic Design) and S. Lee Lewis (Lighting Design) outdid themselves to give the cast and audience a set providing both the requisite holiday color and magic. Many thanks to Karyn Sherwood for the period costumes and extra prop pieces to allow us to linger in the 1960’s and to enjoy being there.
Right away the ‘ladies’ reached out to the audience for “Bob”, a Harper’s employee who works in the lumber department and “Bill”, Missy’s new husband. Their identification led to a wonderful series of winks, nods, asides and even one on-stage appearance by both Bob and Bill. A special end to Act I was the distribution of “Christmas bonus” envelopes to every audience member. The audience was very responsive to these interactions even leading to a funny ‘reprimand’ by Betty Jean when audience members did not “follow their directions”.
A good decision was made by director, Lowe Taylor, to place live music on stage. The song arrangements while varied and sometimes moving ranged from straight 60’s tempo for “Little Saint Nick” to the slow tempo required for “Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day”. Kudos to Marji Eldreth as Music Director and the songbird cast for helping to present each song uniquely with beautiful vocal harmonies.
While there was much camaraderie and joshing between the “ladies”, their personal relationships seemed to take a backseat to their entertaining of the audience. I was looking for a little more about them and how they responded to each other as friends. Neither the song blocking nor the character interpretations helped much with that. Even with that being said, their over-the-top enthusiasm for each other and what they were doing for their fellow workers was heartfelt and contagious making the audience “Ahh!” and “Ohh!” more than once.
With so many options for holiday entertaining, many thanks to Milburn Stone Theater for providing a delightful alternative of enjoyable singing and comfortable memories for those of us who have had our fill of the Carols and Nutcrackers rife during this Holiday Season! Welcome, Wonderettes, to the Christmas repertoire and long may you stay!
by Roger Bean
Directed by Lowe Taylor
December 16 – 19, 2010
Milburn Stone Theatre
One Seahawk Drive
North East, MD