The holiday season is a time for sugarplums, Santa and — at least in the South Sound — Stardust.
This season marks the 20th time that Harlequin Productions has visited Manhattan’s Stardust Club and the third time one of the original musicals has been set in the 1950s.
The show “The Stardust Christmas Dazzle” opens Friday (Nov. 27).
The Stardust shows, all Harlequin originals, are consistent crowd favorites, said Scot Whitney, who runs Harlequin with wife Linda Whitney. “It’s always the huge smash of the season.”
Two decades on, the show is selling better than ever. The company has already added performances to accommodate the crowds — something that had never happened before the show’s opening night.
“Dazzle” is set in 1959, one year after last year’s “The Stardust Christmas Commotion.” The plot involves a big charity fundraiser, an update on the lives of some of last year’s characters and a visit from royalty.
“We’ve been calling it ‘Downton Abbey’ meets the Stardust Club,” said Linda Whitney, who brings to Stardust’s direction a love of both history and music. “That British upper-class element has entered our world.”
The royalty in question is Lord Benedict Manderson, played by John Serembe (“The 39 Steps,” “The Head That Wouldn’t Die”). Manderson shows up to persuade his son, a new performer at the club, played by Xander Layden (“Laughter on the 23rd Floor”), to come back to Britain and take his place as lord of the manor.
Also new to the cast is DuWayne Anderson (“To Kill a Mockingbird”).
Returning characters — and cast members — are Louis (Christian Doyle), Joy (Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe), Sandy (Leah Scofield) and Rosalie (Amy Shephard). Louis and Joy, who were headed off to marry at the end of last year’s show, are happily wed. Rosalie, though, is stressed because her beau has left town for a new job. Bruce Haasl, who played that role last year, wasn’t available. Such are the ups and downs of characters in soap operas and serial musicals.
“She hasn’t heard from him in over a week, and so she’s quite depressed,” Whitney said. “In that pre-cellphone age, you would wait for days to hear from a boyfriend, waiting for the mail. It was a different world.”
But the real star of Stardust tends to be the music, as theater critic Alec Clayton pointed out in a review of “Commotion.”
“It’s the music, nostalgic, hummable and danceable, that makes this show enjoyable,” he wrote at alecclayton.blogspot.com.
Among this year’s selections: “Papa Loves Mambo,” “At the Hop,” “Dream Lover” and “Hey, Good Lookin’.”
“These are little gems that were super popular in the late ’50s,” Whitney said.
She said she’s having more fun with the music now that she’s visiting the 1950s after 17 years of combing through the ballads of the World War II era.
“I had gotten tired of it,” she said. “We had covered more than 200 songs from the ’30s and ’40s.”
Today’s audiences relate better to the cheerful bounce of ’50s tunes, she said, whether or not they remember that optimistic decade.
“The tempo is more recognizable, and the songs are cute,” she said. “I’m told that there are little kids who are still singing “Lollipop,” and they heard it for the first time in the show last year, and they loved it.
“It just got stuck in their heads.”
The Stardust Christmas Dazzle
What: Harlequin Productions heads back to the Stardust Club for the 20th time. This time, the nostalgia tripping lands the club’s entertainers in 1959.
When: 8 p.m. Friday (Nov. 27) and Saturday, plus Tuesday-Dec. 5, 10-12, 17-19, 23, 26 and 30 and 7 p.m. Dec. 31, with matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday plus Dec. 6, 13, 20, 24 and 27 and 3 p.m. Dec. 12, 19 and 26
Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia.
Tickets: $41, $37 for military and seniors, $25 for students and those under 25. Discounted rush tickets are available a half-hour prior to curtain. For the Dec. 2 performance, pay what you can.
Information: 360-786-0151, harlequinproductions.org.