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Theater review: 'Winter Wonderettes' at the Carpenter Center

December 14, 2011 |  2:45 pm


Just in time to offset low temperatures, "Winter Wonderettes" warms up the Carpenter Center with festive aplomb. Roger Bean's seasonal sequel to "The Marvelous Wonderettes" merrily rings its bells as a Musical Theatre West presentation.

First seen at the El Portal Forum in 2007, "Winter" transpires in archetypal Springfield, USA, circa 1968, where the title nightingales are the entertainment at Harper's Hardware Holiday Happening (impressively realized by designer Kevin Clowes' set and Jean-Yves Tessier's lighting).

Harper's employee Betty Jean (Julie Dixon Jackson) oversees things while concealing personal troubles. Usual ringleader Missy (Misty Cotton), giddy from her recent marriage, is almost able to relinquish control -- almost. Endearingly dizzy Suzy (Bets Malone), pregnant again, valiantly adheres to the program, while man trap Cindy Lou (Lowe Taylor) insinuatingly poses and posits blunt truths, usually at once.

Creator-director Bean's tinsel-slender premise pulls novelty holiday standards and audience participation toward a delicious twist as Act 1 ends. However, the key, as always, is the cast, an enchanting triple-threat foursome, their harmonies soaring under Daniel Thomas' musical direction. Jackson's bravura attack and nuclear belt are at peak form. Cotton's comic and vocal range continues to astonish. Malone retains a priceless zest, her "Suzy Snowflake" turn worth admission, and the wonderful Taylor finds the humanity within the siren, stilling the house at "All Those Christmas Clichés."

Yes, the venue is rather spacious for so ornament-fragile an entertainment. Bobby Pearce's costumes and John Vaughan's choreography are smoothly proficient without quite reaching the witty comment displayed by their predecessors. Such cavils are trivial, given the full-hearted glee that permeates this delightful holiday gift.

-- David C. Nichols

"Winter Wonderettes," Musical Theatre West at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton St., Long Beach. 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Ends Sunday. $20-$85. (562) 856-1999, Ext. 4, or Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

Photo: Misty Cotton, left, Julie Dixon Jackson, Lowe Taylor and Bets Malone. Credit: Alysa Brennan.