Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Review: Winter Wonderettes

Winter Wonderettes, produced by 11th Hour Theatre Company, review by Wendy Rosenfield

Review: Winter Wonderettes


By Wendy Rosenfield

for the Inquirer

The Wonderettes made their first appearance with 11th Hour Theatre Company back in June. Then, the quartet was The Marvelous Wonderettes, a nostalgia trip to the 1950s and ‘60s whose conceit was a last-minute girl-group substitution for a cancelled boys’ glee club performance. Now, they’re Winter Wonderettes, still in beehives, go-go boots and cat’s eye frames, trading on nostalgia--this time, for the ghosts of Christmases past--while filling in for a missing Santa at Harper’s Hardware Holiday Party.

Along the way, the ladies, Kat Borrelli’s feisty Betty Jean, Laura Catlaw’s lusty Cindy Lou, Rachel Camp’s prissy Missy, and Janet Rowley’s ditzy Suzy power through two acts filled with roughly 25 Christmas songs covering the gamut from “Jingle Bells” to “(We Wanna See) Santa Do the Mambo.” Suffice it to say that despite the big man’s absence, this is no Godot; the ladies get one adjective each, because as written by Roger Bean, a specialist in the field of boomer-pop musical revues, that’s their script and they stick to it. 

Much like its predecessor, there’s not much story here--some catfighting, a little audience participation. But what it lacks in heft, its cast, director Megan Nicole O’Brien, choreographer Borrelli, and musical director Tabitha Allen make up for with copious enthusiasm. (As an aside, I’d love someday to see Allen go piano-a-piano with Philly’s other musical director a la mode, Alex Bechtel.) 

Though Catlaw solo has trouble projecting even in this not-so-big space, and Rowley’s forceful singing voice reaches an ear-bleeding pitch when she’s speaking as Suzy, as an ensemble the Wonderettes make a joyful noise. Harmonizing like a latter-day (but not that much latter) McGuire Sisters, and going at their comic flourishes with gusto, they might just be the hardest-working women in Philly’s holiday season show business. But it bears noting that to love this show, one must really love Christmas songs, or the Wonderettes franchise, or both. If you do, you will. If not, as Beckett’s Vladimir once mused, “We wait. We are bored.”

Winter Wonderettes

Playing at: Theatre Horizon, 401 DeKalb St. (entrance on Penn). Through Sunday, Dec. 30. Tickets: $15 to $31. Information: 267-987-9865 or www.11thHourTheatreCompany.org

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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