One of only two companies in Philadelphia to specialize in musicals, 11th Hour Theatre Company opens its mainstage season with the Philadelphia premiere of WINTER WONDERETTES, a holiday sequel to its June 2012 hit THE MARVELOUS WONDERETTES. Set in 1968, the feel-good story features Pop music, Mod fashions, and a girl group of four best friends whose unexpectedly extended performance saves the annual Christmas party at Harper’s Hardware store after Santa is a no-show and the employees receive some disturbing news.
The tenuous plot and one-dimensional characters, reminiscent of a TV sitcom, serve as little more than a vehicle for the show’s revue of Christmas songs popular in the ‘60s, and the forced audience participation in the second act would be better omitted. But WINTER WONDERETTES is, nonetheless, a lively and fun-filled production, and the music and stylings provide an entertaining blast from the past that will appeal both to baby-boomers, who’ll want to sing along with the hits of their youth, and the youth of today, who’ll enjoy the show’s glitzy camp nostalgia. Julia Poiesz’s authentic wigs and costumes include beehives and flips, cat glasses, shiny dresses, and silver boots, and the set by Maura Roche and props by Keighty McLallen capture the style, collectables, and holiday decor of the period.
The upbeat cast of Kat Borrelli (Betty Jean), Rachel Camp (Missy), Laura Catlaw (Cindy Lou), and Janet Rowley (Suzy) have fun with the pre-feminist female stereotypes (the organizer, the nurturer, the flirt, and the control freak), as they perform such rock-n-roll holiday classics as “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree,” and “Santa Baby,” with terrific four-part harmony and amusing girl-group choreography by Borrelli. Musical director Tabitha Allen leads a three-piece ensemble on keyboard, drums, and bass that provides live accompaniment for the singers, and Mark Valenzuela’s excellent sound design is strong and clear.
In addition to its mainstage productions, 11th Hour is amplifying its 2012-13 season with an exciting new series of musical readings. The “Next Step Concert Series” is designed to introduce audiences to some of 11th Hour’s favorite, and most ground-breaking, contemporary shows through a short two-to-three-day run. Audience talkbacks with the cast follow each performance to help the company decide which will make the cut for its future full-stage productions.
11th Hour kicked off the series in November with the Tony-nominated rock musical BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON. The high-energy historical satire was presented on a bare-stage by an ensemble of eleven actors (including the WONDERETTES’ Borrelli and Catlaw) backed by a live band (directed by Allen), and featured Matteo Scammell, one of Philly’s most noteworthy up-and-coming theater artists, in the title role. The concert-reading series continues in January with PASSING STRANGE, starring Carl Clemons-Hopkins and Forrest McClendon, at Philadelphia’s Off-Broad Street Theatre.
Tickets for WINTER WONDERETTES and the rest of 11th Hour’s expanded season are available through its new colorful website at 11thhourtheatrecompany.org.
By Roger Bean
Directed by Megan Nicole O’Brien
December 7-30, 2012
11th Hour Theatre Company
401 DeKalb St.
Norristown, PA 19401