Reviews

Review: Winter Wonderettes

By Beki Pineda, Boulder Magazine

WINTER WONDERETTES – Written by Roger Bean; Musical Arrangement by Roger Bean and Brian Baker; Directed by Robert Wells. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main, Littleton) through December 26. Tickets available at 303-794-ARTS or townhallartscenter.org.

If the Wonderettes took up tartan, they would be the Plaids. If the Plaids wore pastel dresses, they would be the Wonderettes. But they don’t, so four very talented young women get to fill the pastel dresses and sing the holiday songs. The “plot”- what there is of it – is only an excuse to get the ladies out on the stage where they can explore the Christmas songbook.

The ladies are all employees of the local hardware store and are the entertainment for the office Christmas party. Halfway through they discover that their Christmas bonusses are all slightly pink. Excitement and anticipation of a year-end reward for hard work turns into disappointment and anger. The show almost comes to a screeching halt. But the girls decide to “go on with the show” like the real troopers they are.

Most of the music is delightful versions of songs that invite you to sing along. “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” and, of course, their signature song – “Winter Wonderland.” But there are a few little known holiday songs sprinkled throughout the libretto that surprise and delight. “We Want to See Santa Do the Mambo” and “Suzy Snowflake,” for instance. But the song that stopped the show for a quiet moment and brought tears to everyone’s eyes as we each remembered the childhood wonder of the holiday season was “All the Christmas Cliches” sung by Abby McInerney who totally nailed it. It tells the journey of a person who never made much of Christmas. But now that she is older, she wants the whole holiday scene. The tree – the cookies for Santa – the kids to tuck in tight – the reindeer on the front lawn – the whole Christmas schtick.

All those Christmas clichés
Give’em to me
Just in time for a holiday
Hit me with those out of the ballpark
Happy and Hallmark Christmas clichés.

The girls – Rebekah Ortiz, Cara Lippitt, Caitlin Hilzer and Abby – all got great solo numbers and quartets with authentic 60’s girl group dance steps, compliments of Kelly Kates, the choreographer. Their “in the style of” pastel dresses were designed by Costumer Linda Morken. The hardware store was designed by Douglas Clarke, built by Mike Haas and his crew, and dressed by Becky Toma. And, of course, the music was supported by Donna Debreceni and her long time cohorts, Scott Smith on bass and Larry Ziehl on percussion.

Yes, it’s a light weight script and uses a lot of familiar music. But when it’s done this well, you don’t seem to mind. You just sit back in your seat and let the Christmas spirit seep into your pores. Sometimes you just need that.

A WOW factor of 8.5!!

Review: Live stage shows go different directions

By Sonya Ellingboe, Centennial Citizen

Area theaters are opening again and I happily attended two performances on the weekend of Nov. 6-7 — very different, but both engaging: “American Son” by Christopher Demos-Brown at Curious Theatre in Denver and “Winter Wonderettes” by Roger Bean at Littleton Town Hall Arts Center.

“American Son,” by trial lawyer/playwright Demos-Brown, played on Broadway, with Kerry Washington as the mother. It’s set in the could-be-in-any-county waiting room at the Dade County, Florida, Courthouse, with chairs for those who need to wait for their time in court, an American flag, county insignia in a frame, a clock, harsh lighting — and space to pace. The stage set’s blandness sets off the tense story well.

“It is a play that gives us a glimpse into the fears and concerns that almost every parent of a Black male child in this country faces on a regular basis, especially in interactions with police,” wrote director Jada Suzanne Dixon, who also performs the role of Kendra Ellis-Connor, a Black mother, whose son is missing as lights go up on the Curious stage. (He’s a mild-mannered kid who once burst into tears over “Puff the Magic Dragon,” she says.)

“There’s been an incident,” says tense young white Officer Paul Larkin (Sean Scrutchins), in reply to her questioning. He stalls about more information, while she presses, growing increasingly frantic over her son’s whereabouts.

Her white husband, Scott (Josh Robinson), an FBI agent, arrives — sputtering and aggressive — “He’s going to West Point, went to private schools — I won’t put up with him regressing,” Scott says. “Obviously something happened.” (We learn that Scott has walked out on mother and son recently.)

“He was driving around with two other black males in the car,” the officer tells him — which he hadn’t told the mother.

What transpires is predictable, but the tension is with us until the end of this well-crafted piece.

Abner Genece, forceful as Lt. John Stokes, is the fourth character, who enters the one-act late.

“American Son” keeps the audience engaged and the cast is strong. Chip Walton, Curious founder, said he and Dixon had both seen the play in New York and compared notes, agreeing that it was a good fit for Curious.

Given the skills of the cast, crew and director involved, (all member of Actors Equity) — I’d hope to see some exploration of material that was not quite so predictably “a good fit” for Curious. They have created works that stretched talents further afield in the past.

“American Son” plays through Dec. 11 at Curious Theatre Company, 1080 Acoma St., Denver, curioustheatre.org.

“Winter Wonderettes” finds this singing group of young women, whom we have met before at Town Hall, six years later in Springfield, performing at the Harper’s Hardware Holiday Party … Bob Wells directed the well-blended voices of Missy (Rebekah Ortiz) Cindy Lou (Abby McInerney), Suzy (Cara Lippitt) and Betty Jean (Caitlin Hilzer) into a program of seasonal music, mostly familiar, with live accompaniment (always a plus) by Donna Kolpan Debreceni on the keyboard; Scott Alan Smith on bass and Larry Ziehl on percussion.

The smooth and lively singers, clad in pastel velvet dresses with a bit of lace trim, were choreographed by Kelly Kates, which adds an extra professional polish to the show, in addition to Wells’ skilled direction of well-blended voices.

Many selections are warmly familiar, starting with “A Marshmallow World,” and including the traditional “O Tannenbaum” and “Santa Baby” but also include some we may not have heard, like “We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo!”

I love the idea of children being included in holiday entertainment outings and the elementary-age kids seated in front of me seemed thoroughly engaged, as well as obviously pleased with wearing party dresses. This is a good choice for younger family members, though probably not the teeny folks, who might prefer Frosty or Santa …

The cheery set with tree and fireplace adds to the atmosphere.

“Winter Wonderettes” plays through Dec. 26 and alternates with “Plaid Tidings,” directed by Nick Sugar, which runs through Jan. 2. A great contrast appears in late January with “Little Shop of Horrors,” directed by Bob Wells. (Jan. 28 to March 6.) townhallartscenter.org, or 303-794-2787.

Review: ‘The Fantasticks’

By Beki Pineda, Boulder Magazine

THE FANTASTICKS – Music by Harvey Schmidt; Book and Lyrics by Tom Jones; Directed by Billie McBride. Produced by Town Hall Arts Center (2450 West Main Street, Littleton) through October 17. Tickets available at 303-794-2787 x5 or boxoffice@townhallartscenter.org.

Born in 1960 in the creative minds of Schmidt and Jones, THE FANTASTICKS is a classic show that everyone has done or seen at least once. It holds the record of the longest running musical on an American stage still after its 42 year run Off-Broadway in the Sullivan Street Playhouse. It even had a seven year run here in Denver in the now-gone Third Eye Theatre run by Joey and June Favre, one of the first shows I saw in Denver. People who go to the theatre regularly have seen multiple productions and have their favorite El Gallo, their favorite Old Actor and Mortimer, even their favorite Mute. Each production either teaches or reminds us of the joy of first love and the price of experience. This production adds to that library of musical wisdom.

Town Hall has assembled a kick ass cast for their version. You have to have a strong appealing personality for your El Gallo, the bandit narrator. They have found him in Randy Chalmers who seduces with a smile, swashes his buckles with style, abducts with abandon and dispenses hard won insights musically. “Without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

Katie Jackson lends her astounding vocal and acting chops to the crucial role of Luisa, the girl who falls in love twice in short order, once with Matt and once with the idea of adventure. Katie has a sweet appealing nature that conveys both the innocence and later disillusionment of Luisa. Her true love Matt is played by Carter Edward Smith with his usual flair and ease. What is there to say about Carter except that he can play anyone – old or young – with authenticity and grace.

Matt and Luisa are kept apart by a wall put up between the gardens of their parents who feign a feud to discourage their kids. Played by Boni McIntyre as Matt’s mother and Rick Long as Luisa’s father, they know the quickest way to get their children to do what they want is to tell them they can’t do it.  “Why do the kids put beans in their ears? They did it coz we said No.” They too learn that the best laid plans often go awry as their joint garden doesn’t quite pan out like they hoped.

An abduction scene is plotted by El Gallo and the parents which will allow Matt to rescue Luisa from the clutches of El Gallo (hired for the event), end the false feud and lead to a happy ending for all. When El Gallo needs extra players in the planned abduction, he calls on Henry, an Old Actor (played with magical aplomb by John Ashton) and Mortimer, his sidekick (a nearly unrecognizable Diane Wzionktka). Henry revels in proclaiming garbled Shakespeare and boasting of his past glories. Mortimer dies. That’s what he does best. Even though this production gave Mortimer’s death demonstration short shrift. John channels the ghosts of Shakespearean actors from Burbage to Olivier and yet adds his own casual appealing style to his character. Diane channels Dopey from the Seven Dwarfs for her Mortimer while still displaying humor and a desire to please. The Master Die-er in this Abduction scene was Randy as El Gallo who created a full three encore production out of his demise. The lone remaining player was Cal Meakins as The Mute who silently and unobtrusively provides the wall to separate the lovers, Luisa’s precious necklace from her mother, the leaves when it becomes fall, the snow when winter sets in, and the sparkly rain for ‘Soon It’s Gonna Rain.”

My only complaint with this production was the staging of the scenes of Matt’s adventures to find fame and fortune away from his family, but finds misery and loneliness instead. Placed at the top of the aisles in the seating area, in order to see the vignettes, everyone in the audience had to turn around in their seats. By the third ”misery,” most people had tired of it and just listened to the scene behind them instead of observing. I understand that Matt was “out in the world” by this time but staged this way made the scenes awkward for the audience to see Matt’s “agony.”

The production team at Town Hall always comes through with pizazz. The gazebo type setting designed by Michael Duran and constructed by Mike Haas and his crew added to the whimsy of the show. Lit by Brett Maughan with sound design by Curt Behm and costumes by Terry Fong-Schmidt, it all worked together for the audience’s enjoyment. The accompaniment on keyboard by Donna Debreceni and harp by Barbara Sims completed the ensemble. This may become your favorite FANTASTICKS in days to come. “Try to remember . . . .”

A WOW factor of 8.5!!