• Musicals tap into seasonal themes

  • The big kid on the block — the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — may go dark in winter, but the off-Bardway scene in Southern Oregon is humming these long nights. For the holidays, there's live theater from Medford to Ashland and in between.
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  • The big kid on the block — the Oregon Shakespeare Festival — may go dark in winter, but the off-Bardway scene in Southern Oregon is humming these long nights. For the holidays, there's live theater from Medford to Ashland and in between.
    "Winter Wonderettes" will kick off the season Nov. 16 at Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland. "42nd Street," the classic show business musical, will open Nov. 30 at Camelot Theatre in Talent. In downtown Medford, the Randall Theatre will present "Scrooge the Musical" opening Dec. 14.
    "Winter Wonderettes" is a cabaret-style sequel to the hit Broadway musical "The Marvelous Wonderettes," a nostalgic look at the 1950s and '60s with pop songs from the era. Last time we saw Betty Jean, Cindy Lou, Missy and Suzy at OCT, they were songleaders at Springfield High in the first act and got together 10 years later in the second.
    In the sequel, it's six months later. Betty Jean still works at the town hardware store. Missy is just back from her honeymoon. Cindy Lou has a softer heart but a bigger beehive. Suzy is still a ditz.
    With a big Christmas party planned at the hardware store, Santa is a no-show. So it's up to the girls to save the day.
    "Santa is Mr. Harper, who owns the hardware store," says OCT Artistic Director Jim Giancarlo. "It's all part of the rather silly plot."
    But just because the plot is a lightweight doesn't mean the actors don't take the characters seriously, he says.
    "We don't have to send them up," he says. "We play it for real. I think that's the key to it, to be sincere about it.
    "We don't have to exaggerate. The laughs are already there. You play it with as much truth as you can."
    "Winter Wonderettes is directed and choreographed by Valerie Rachelle. Giancarlo says the show's music is a mix, with well-known songs such as "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" and "Jingle Bell Rock" and others less familiar. Accompaniment is a recorded track made especially for the show.
    Shows are scheduled at 8 p.m. most nights through Dec. 30, plus 1 p.m. matinees Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $18 to $36 ($19 for previews Nov. 14-15). Food and drink are extra. Call 541-488-2902 or visit oregoncabaret.com.
    Camelot is known for big musicals, and they're even bigger at the company's plush new digs in Talent. "42nd Street" is based on the 1933 film adaptation of Bradford Ropes' novel about tyrannical director Julian Marsh's attempt to stage a musical blockbuster at the nadir of the Great Depression.
    With a book by Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble, lyrics by Al Dubin and music by Harry Warren, the show won Tony awards on Broadway for both the 1984 and 2001 productions.
    Camelot Artistic Director Livia Genise says one reason for the show's popularity is that it focuses on the struggle of an appealing underdog in aspiring chorus girl Peggy Sawyer. Another is the music.
    "She's a girl from the Midwest whose goal is to make it on Broadway," Genise says. "There are a lot of wonderful songs."
    Tunes include "Lullaby of Broadway," "You're Getting to Be a Habit with Me" and "42nd Street."
    Sarah Gore plays Peggy. Julian is played by Tyler Ward.
    The show features a live, five-piece orchestra with two synthesizers, reeds, trumpet and drums. There's a lot of tap-dancing.
    "It's a feel-good musical," Genise says. "Light and happy."
    "42nd Street" plays through Dec. 30. Tickets are $22 ($20) for students and seniors, and an extra $2 to pick your seat at camelottheatre.org. Visit the site or call 541-535-5250.
    "Scrooge! The Musical" is based on the 1970 film version with Albert Finney as Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge will be played by Daniel Grossbard. Don Tull will direct. Performances are at 7 p.m. Dec. 14-16 and 21-24. There are 1 p.m. matinees Dec. 15 and 22.
    "If people are familiar with that version, it's similar," says the Randall Theatre's Robin Downward. "I just finally said if nobody else is doing it, I'm going to do it. The plan is to make that our holiday staple."
    The Randall, downtown at the corner of Front and Third streets, has been one of Medford's best-kept secrets. But under the leadership of Downward its profile seems to be increasing. It now boasts concessions, new restrooms and a full slate of movies and other events throughout the year in addition to live plays.
    A unique thing at the Randall is that admission is on a pay-what-you-want basis at the box office before the show (minimum $1). Or you get reserved seats ($12) at randalltheatre.org or by calling 541-632-3258.
    The original cast was 36 actors, but by doubling roles, the Randall is doing it with 19. The score is being digitally mixed.
    "It's our first big musical," Downward says.
    Bill Varble is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at varble.bill@gmail.com.
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