While the official opening of Warwick’s new Ocean State Theatre Company doesn’t happen until January 23 with Neil Simon’s “Fools,” the beautiful new theatre had their “soft opening” last weekend with Roger Bean’s soft and fluffy “The Winter Wonderettes.”
The good news is that the theatre, minus a few finishing touches, was ready and able to handle the many details necessary to “putting on a show.” The 409-seat house has the best sight lines we’ve seen in Rhode Island, with a steep grade that makes it possible to see over those six-footers in front of you. The stage is wide, deep and high enough to handle most productions, and the orchestra pit can handle a good size group of musicians. Lighting is all rigged, and the sound system works well.
Aimee Turner chose to bring in a four-character production, filled with Christmas music, corny humor and audience participation. It’s not Shakespeare, or even Dickens, but it is theatre…more like dinner theatre without the meal.
The loose plot has four employees of Harper Hardware putting on their annual Holiday Happening, with the audience serving as the employees. Scenic Designer Kimberly V. Powers has created colorful sets and props, with dresses and hairdos straight out of 1968 created by Marcia Zammarelli.
The production is loaded with Christmas music, most of it new to us, interspersed with cornball humor and silly audience participation, with many in the crowd rising to the occasion and a few sitting on their hands.
The five-piece orchestra, under music director Dan Micciche, does a good job in backing up the four singer/actresses: Lulu Lloyd, Erin McCracken, Kim Morgan Dean and Melissa Robinette. Interestingly, the two dozen songs are listed in alphabetical order in the program, and less than half of them are familiar.
While it doesn’t come close to “Waiting for Godot,” the employees are impatiently waiting for Mr. Harper to show up as Santa Claus. Instead, he sends a notice that the store is closing and they will all be out of work. This shifts the mood to somber, allowing for a few more sentimental numbers.
But have no fear, this is a Christmas show and hope prevails, but not before the Wonderettes bring a few audience members on stage for some silliness and try to get the audience to gobble like turkeys.
If you like this particular genre, you’ll love “The Winter Wonderettes.” If not, OSTC will be alternating the entertainment with a naughtier “Santaland Diaries” by David Sedaris, a one-person show we’ve enjoyed twice at Gamm. Theatre-by-the-Sea veteran Lennie Watts will play Crumpet the Elf, a Santa’s helper at Macy’s.
“The Winter Wonderettes” plays through Dec. 30 at OSTC, 1245 Jefferson Blvd., Warwick. There’s plenty of free parking and an interesting refreshment bar. Tickets are $29-$54. Call 782-8587 for reservations.