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Winter Park / Maitland Observer Friday, Nov. 16, 2018 4 months ago

'Winter Wonderettes' at Winter Park Playhouse blends comedy and Christmas music

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The Winter Park Playhouse hopes to get audiences into the holiday spirit with ‘Winter Wonderettes.’
by: Tim Freed Associate Editor

If you’re looking for a blend of comedy, Christmas songs and some good old-fashioned holiday nostalgia, the Winter Park Playhouse has just the show for you.

Tonight marks the opening night for the Playhouse’s latest production “Winter Wonderettes” — a work originally created by Roger Bean.

The musical comedy tells the story of a four-girl singing group entertaining employees and families at the annual Harper’s Hardware Holiday Party. According to tradition, Mr. Harper dresses up as Santa every year and hands out the bonus checks during the entertainment, but when Santa goes missing, the four girls have to use their charm and talent to save the day.

“Winter Wonderettes” is affectionally referred to as a “jukebox musical,” featuring 1960s versions of Christmas classics such as “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Winter Wonderland.”

The songs are used to tell a story  — as well as get the audience to tap their toes and sing along.

“It’s lots of fun — they’re all fun songs that you’ll remember, from Brenda Lee’s ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree to ‘Jingle Bell Rock’ and ‘Little Saint Nick,’” musical director Chris Leavy said. “It’s all of those great Christmas oldies that we look forward to hearing.

“These are songs that you don’t get to play usually,” he said. “It’s fun with Roger excavating older Christmas songs that maybe weren’t as popular so not as many people know them, and you’re like, ‘What a great song.’”

Artistic Director Roy Alan said the show features plenty of audience participation, especially in the second act.

“(The songs) have incredible four-part harmony, and they all have a rock beat to them, which makes them even more fun,” Alan said.

Audience members may recognize the four main characters in this production from “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” also created by Roger Bean and performed in 2015 at the Playhouse.

Three of the four girls make their return to the cast, Alan said, adding that they are all strong singers.

“They could make a record — they sound that good,” Alan said.

“Anecdotally, they are so good that sometimes in rehearsal, I’d be listening to them singing and trying to coach the vocals, and I would hear somebody was on a wrong note, but they sing so well together I couldn’t tell who it was — even with them standing right in front of me,” Leavy said. “It’s almost like ventriloquism — they are so tight.”

Just as strong as the singing though is the story itself, Leavy said.

“They’re just very strong characters — it’s not just four girls dancing around on stage singing ’60s Christmas songs,” Leavy said. “They have actual characters and stories, and they’re very, very strongly written. You care about them as characters, as well.”

Whether it’s the singing or the story or a mix of both, one thing is for sure: it’s going to be a ton of fun to watch, Leavy said.

“It’s one of those shows that you don’t come to because it’s the best show ever written; you come because it’s the most fun you’re ever going to have,” Leavy said.

“These are the times you want to put a smile on your face, and this is the show that’s going to do it.”

Tim Freed is an Associate Editor with the Winter Park/Maitland Observer. He is a graduate of the University of Central Florida.

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