By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News
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SEQUIM — Ah, the Marvelous Wonderettes. They were a girl group in the 1950s, four high school friends who sang, as one Wonderette puts it, in “insanely tight harmonies.”
These girls had to grow up and out of the group, of course — but this month, they're back together again.
Meet Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy and Suzy, the all-new “Winter Wonderettes,” offering a bit of story and a lot of song in the latest Readers Theatre Plus show at the Dungeness Schoolhouse: It all starts tonight and continues through this weekend and next, with the final show Sunday, Nov. 17.
Yes, it's early for a holiday musical. But as Cindy Lou (Elise Ray) and Betty Jean (Vicki Helwick) say, this production is a rocking start to the season. And with those costumes, hairdos and blue eyeshadow, these Wonderettes are all about good cheer.
“Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree,” “The Man with the Bag,” “It's Christmas Time All Over the World,” “Mele Kalikimaka,” “We Wanna See Santa Do the Mambo,” “Run, Rudolph, Run” and “Santa Baby” are among the two dozen numbers.
So while there is a story line, the show is 90 percent music and comedy, promised Ray.
“If you let the Christmas theme leave you out in the cold, you'll miss a stellar show,” she added.
The Winter Wonderettes have been hired to provide entertainment at the Harper's Hardware holiday party, and they're fired up. But “things begin to spiral out of control,” said Kyra Humphrey, who plays Suzy.
“Mr. Harper, aka Santa, fails to show up to distribute the expected Christmas bonuses,” she explained, “and the girls have to ad-lib to keep things going.”
There are two men who do show up: John Yeo, who portrays Bob, and Dewey Ehling, who not only directs the show but also plays Bill, the new husband of Missy (Janice Parks).
Helwick said she wanted to be a Winter Wonderette primarily because Ehling is directing.
“He is a joy to work with, whether in Peninsula Singers, with the Port Townsend Community Orchestra or Readers Theater Plus,” she said, listing some of the groups Ehling is involved with.
“I also loved the idea of singing these wonderful songs with three other talented women,” Helwick said, adding, “This kind of tight harmony singing is not something you get to be a part of very often.”
When asked to describe a favorite moment in the show, Helwick spoke of “Snowfall,” a song in the first act that was a bear to learn.
After much rehearsal, she said, “the four of us do an amazing job singing it.”
And while this has long been a favorite, “in this show, ['Snowfall'] is where you really see how close these four ladies are as friends.”
For Ray, a high point comes in her rendition of “All Those Christmas Cliches” in Act Two.
“Naturally, Cindy Lou is very snarky,” Ray said, “but at this moment in the show she lays her heart out for everyone to see and talks about the life she really wants.”
Ray, whose legal name is Ayla Iliff, lost her father while she was in high school. Michael Iliff died in December 2008. The song and its accompanying monologue hit home for her, and for a time she avoided rehearsing it.
“But it's been great for me, both artistically and emotionally, very therapeutic,” Ray said.
For Humphrey, “Winter Wonderettes” has been a way to become more involved with Sequim's music and theater community. She moved here from Pasadena, Calif., last summer, where she ran a singing studio and performed with the Los Angeles Master Chorale for more than 20 years.
The show has been “a big physical stretch,” said Humphrey, who uses a wheelchair. “But I love the people I am working with.”
“Winter Wonderettes” takes the stage at the Dungeness Schoolhouse, 2781 Towne Road, at 7:30 tonight and next Friday night, Nov. 15. Matinees are slated for 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday as well as next Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16-17; one midweek performance is set for 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Tickets are $15 per person or $25 for two if purchased in advance at Odyssey Books, 114 W. Front St., Port Angeles, or Pacific Mist Books, 121 W. Washington St., Sequim. Remaining tickets will be sold for $15 each at the Schoolhouse door, but Readers Theatre Plus' holiday productions have been known to sell out.
As with all Readers Theatre Plus shows, proceeds will benefit a nonprofit — the RT+ Scholarship Fund for local students.
To learn more about the troupe, see www.ReadersTheatrePlus.com or phone 360-797-3337.