For about five years now, Addison’s WaterTower Theatre has celebrated the holidays in decidedly unconventional ways: a musical crammed with rock carols and a curmudgeonly shopping-mall elf with a drug problem. Not exactly traditional wassailing-and-kisses-under-the-mistletoe fare, especially for a northern suburb.
Which is probably why the shows are so successful. This is artistic director Terry Martin’s way of getting into the spirit of the season without becoming cloying and repetitive.
Or is it?
Last year, Martin took over directing duties for The Santaland Diaries, giving it a new set, new costumes and a new vibe. And this year, Dave Steakley’s rollicking “Rockin’ Christmas Party” gives way to a kitchy nostalgia-fest: The Winter Wonderettes. Sometimes, it’s not enough to be distinct you also have to be different.
If you haven’t seen “Santaland” yet actor Nye Cooper’s acerbic monologue about gay humorist David Sedaris’ job working as an elf at Macy’s you’ve missed a charmingly off-kilter chestnut. Barely an hour, and performed in the intimate Stone Cottage, it has the sense of an Off-Off-Broadway performance art piece.
Cooper has been doing this long enough that, despite minor changes, the role fits him as snugly as candy-striped tights. This is a tonic for those overwhelmed by wall-the-wall shoppers and rampant commercialism. “Santaland” reminds you that you’re not alone in feeling overwhelmed it feels your pain.
“Wonderettes,” by contrast, only fakes its Scroogeness. At its heart, this is just a perky jukebox musical with a threadbare plot meant to hold it all together.
It’s 1968, and Harper’s Hardware Store is holding its annual Christmas party, complete with a performance by their own Wonderettes. When the women accidentally discover the store is closing its doors for good, the celebration turns melancholy at least until the closing song.
The structure is banal and programmatic, with Act 1 devoting too much time to storytelling and not enough to letting the singers sing. Act 2 remedies that, with one great solo after another.
All the members of the cast Marisa Diotalevi, Stacey Oristano, Megan Elizabeth Kelly, Mary Gilbreath do a great job with their numbers. Gilbreath has the pipes, belting out “This Christmas” and “Santa Baby” with inventiveness and power. Diotalevi sweetly interprets the lovely ballad “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve” and provides some comic zing. No coal in the stockings for these bouffant-wearing beauties.
Addison Theatre Centre, 15650 Addison Road, Addison. Through Dec. 23. 972-450-6232.
“The Winter Wonderettes,” Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. $20-$30.
“The Santaland Diaries,” Wednesday through Saturday at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m., Sunday at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. $18.