- In Swift Creek Mill's bouncy Christmas musical, Katrinah Lewis (third from left) wonders who put the bomp in the shama lama ding dong. Fellow Wonderettes Aly Wepplo, Georgia Rogers Farmer and Anna Starnes offer their own backup analysis.
Swift Creek Mill's holiday musical, “The Winter Wonderettes,” is set in 1968, but if you expect echoes of the “Summer of Love” in this show you'll be disappointed. Instead of go-go boots, miniskirts and Woodstock-era rock, this show offers a cavalcade of holiday tunes performed in expertly arranged harmonies, an engaging if slight story, and perky, powder-blue party dresses.
While it's a little dispiriting that the show's women have no higher aspirations than landing a good man, within the confines of the feel-good jukebox musical, this production hits all of the right notes.
Perhaps it just took longer for 1960s counterculture to reach Springfield, Ohio, where the girl group, the Marvelous Wonderettes, have been asked to brighten up the Harper's Hardware Store Christmas party (evoked via a detail-rich set designed by the production's director, Tom Width). Between classics such as “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Winter Wonderland” we get a smattering of background on each girl. Though Betty Jean (Georgia Rogers Farmer) is the group's apparent leader, she's despondent because of her beau's recent departure, leaving newly married Missy (Katrinah Carol Lewis) to actually run the show. The sleep-deprived and slightly ditsy Suzy (Aly Wepplo) has a set of 6-month old twins at home, while Cindy Lou (Anna Starnes) is unlucky in love and had a moderately hardscrabble childhood.
The actors' voices blend astonishingly well and, with the spare but adroit backing of musical director Paul Deiss and his three-piece combo, every song is a delight. An unexpected turn toward melancholy before intermission allows Farmer to deliver the most affecting song of the night, “Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day.” Starmes' voice doesn't have
Farmer's strength but its clear tone buoys “All Those Christmas ClichAcs.” Wepplo applies her accomplished comic touch to “Suzy Snowflake” and Lewis lends a whiff of soul to “Santa Baby,” a tantalizing indication of what she could deliver if let loose on a whole slate of R&B tunes.
The show tries to build some sense of tension around a surprise announcement from the owner of the hardware store but it is a couple of entertaining audience participation bits near the end that really propel the show from good to great. Where the script (by Roger Bean) doesn't provide any real depth, the cast fills it in with charm. The result won't challenge your mind but it will certainly warm your heart.
“Winter Wonderettes” plays through Dec. 31 at Swift Creek Mill Playhouse. Go to SwiftCreekMill.com or call 748-5203 for tickets and information.