‘Winter Wonderettes’ a light-hearted show filled with ’60s-era Christmas songs
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.”
The Forum Theatre is staging the musical “Winter Wonderettes” starring, from left: Jen Bechter, Ari Chandler, Chelsey Moore Ehresman and Anjelica McRae Breathett