‘Win­ter Won­derettes’ a light-hearted show filled with ’60s-era Christ­mas songs

The Wichita Eagle - - Explore - BY DAVID BURKE Ea­gle cor­re­spon­dent

To al­ter­nate an­nu­ally with Fo­rum Theatre’s pro­duc­tion of “A Christ­mas Carol” in the hol­i­day sea­son slot, artis­tic di­rec­tor Kathryn Page Haupt­man was look­ing for some­thing “fam­ily-friendly … very light-hearted and a lot of fun.”

She choose Win­ter Won­derettes, which opened this week­end and con­tin­ues through Dec. 16.

“To me, this just seemed like the per­fect one,” she said.

“Win­ter” is part of a

four-show canon by com­poser Roger Bean about the ups and downs of a four-girl group from late-1960s Ohio, which be­gan with “The Mar­velous Won­derettes” (staged in Wi­chita by the for­mer Cabaret Old­town in 2011). The quar­tet re­unites to play the an­nual hol­i­day party for Harper’s Hard­ware,

the store owned by the fam­ily of Betty Jean (played by Jen Bechter).

Dur­ing the party, Santa Claus is miss­ing, and the girls help find him. In the mean­time, they per­form an ar­ray of 1960s-era Christ­mas songs, in­clud­ing “Marsh­mal­low World,” “Santa Baby” and “What Are You Do­ing New Year’s

Eve?” “Some fa­mil­iar, some not-so-fa­mil­iar,” Haupt­man said, “but it’s a won­der­ful va­ri­ety of songs.”

The early re­hearsals proved to be a chal­lenge for the singers – Ari Chan­dler, An­jel­ica McRae Bre­thett, Chelsey Moore Ehres­man and Bechter – but they caught on to the girl-group har­mony.

“I didn’t ex­pect it to be this dif­fi­cult,” said Chan­dler, who played the fe­male lead in Fo­rum’s “Bon­nie & Clyde” ear­lier this year. “I thought, ‘Oh, we know this mu­sic,’ and then we started learn­ing it and it went into dif­fer­ent parts, I didn’t ex­pect it to be so chal­leng­ing. But I love it, it’s won­der­ful.”

Ben Karnes is the show’s mu­si­cal di­rec­tor.

The blend of songs and story “makes this show in­ter­est­ing,” Haupt­man said. “It’s a step above just a nor­mal juke­box mu­si­cal or re­vue,” she added.

Since the au­di­ence for “Win­ter Won­derettes” is os­ten­si­bly the em­ploy­ees of the hard­ware store, there will be lots of in­ter­ac­tion from the stage, Haupt­man said. “It’s some­thing a lit­tle bit dif­fer­ent for us, but that’s part of the charm of this piece,” she said. “It’s kind of in­clud­ing ev­ery­one in this lit­tle party that’s go­ing on. It’s a lot of fun.”

In cast­ing the roles, Haupt­man said, she ended up with ev­ery­one al­ready fit­ting the per­son­al­ity of the char­ac­ter she’s play­ing.

“The great thing is that each char­ac­ter is re­ally us, nat­u­rally,” said Bre­thett, who led Fo­rum’s Aretha Franklin con­cert in the sum­mer. “We didn’t have to do a lot of work to build a char­ac­ter around it.”

Chan­dler said her char­ac­ter is “big­ger than I am, but she’s a happy-go-lucky per­son and that’s fun to play.”

Haupt­man said the re­lata­bil­ity of the char­ac­ters is one of the strong points of “Won­derettes.” “It’s some­thing that any­one and ev­ery­one is go­ing to en­joy,” she said. “They all rep­re­sent some­one you know in your fam­ily or your clos­est friends.”

JERRY FRITCHMAN Cour­tesy photo

The Fo­rum Theatre is stag­ing the mu­si­cal “Win­ter Won­derettes” star­ring, from left: Jen Bechter, Ari Chan­dler, Chelsey Moore Ehres­man and An­jel­ica McRae Brea­thett

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