By CHARLES WHALEY
Ready or not, here come the holidays — and who better to usher them in than the distaff quartet billed as the Marvelous Wonderettes in their seasonal “Winter Wonderettes” musical at Derby Dinner Playhouse.
No doubt about it, these women can really sing and put over a song, but they’re saddled with a labored irritating plot from which, happily, some enjoyable nuggets can be plucked.
It’s 1968 and these four employees of Harper’s Hardware (Elizabeth Loos as Betty Jean in corporate sales, Jillian Prefach in cat’s eye glasses as recently married Missy, Cami Glauser as bouncy young Suzy, and Brittany Carricato Cox as sexy blonde Cindy Lou) are putting on the Christmas show for their fellow workers.
They try so very, very hard to be ingratiating under associate producer Lee Buckholz’s direction. Sometimes they are, but often they aren’t when stridency takes over.
Some routines are hammered home so relentlessly that they become tiresome. The “around the world” theme (peeled off the idea that Missy and her husband had an around-the-world honeymoon) is a case in point. Cindy Lou is told that she “makes everything sound dirty” in her reference to this. “It’s a gift,” she shoots back. And naturally we get a Christmas around the world tour (Mexico, Hawaii, Germany, the Caribbean) with stereotypical dance take-offs and tired jokes mixed with songs.
Yet there’s a gorgeous ensemble treatment of Claude and Ruth Thornhill’s “Snowfall” that follows the group’s rollicking “Mister Santa” and a rock medley that includes “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “Jingle Bell Rock.”
Loos as Betty Jean conveys powerful emotion with her “Christmas Will Be Just Another Lonely Day” after confiding that her boyfriend has left her. And Prefach as Missy hits the heights with the way she sings “This Christmas.”
Best of all, surprisingly, were two hilarious moments of audience involvement. Loos singled out a man she called Bob from plumbing on whom she had a crush. She serenaded him with a torchy “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?” and pulled him onstage for a romantic dance that he carried off with aplomb.
Another man called Bill, the so-called husband of Missy, had “Santa Baby” crooned to him by all four women as, wearing a Santa cap, he sat on stage in a rocking chair, lapping up the attention.
The show, created by Roger Bean at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, is one of two sequels to his original off-Broadway hit “The Marvelous Wonderettes.”
Musical director Scott Bradley’s orchestra (piano, drums, bass, woodwinds, guitar) deftly ranged through the 25-song score. Sharon Murray Harrah’s eye-catching costumes, especially her colorful wardrobe for act one, and Heather Paige Folsom’s witty choreography in the show produced by Bekki Jo Schneider, also merit applause.
“Winter Wonderettes’ runs through Dec. 31. For tickets and information: 812-288-8281, toll free 877-898-8577, or www.derbydinner.com.