Harlequin adds some Latin rhythms to its Stardust musical treat

From left, Amy Shephard, Ashley Chandler, Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Miguel Pineda, and Christie Oldright in “The Stardust Christmas Fandango.”
From left, Amy Shephard, Ashley Chandler, Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe, Miguel Pineda, and Christie Oldright in “The Stardust Christmas Fandango.” Courtesy photo

What if Grandma, or the friend who gives you holiday treats, added cinnamon and chili peppers to the holiday batch of chocolate-chip cookies? The results would still be rich and sweet, especially when just out of the oven, but with a twist inspired by the flavors of Mexican chocolate.

Devotees of Harlequin Productions’ “Stardust” musicals, a holiday tradition in South Sound, are about to experience something similar.

In “The Stardust Christmas Fandango,” set in 1961, the gang at the Stardust Club is once again putting on a show. This time, the headliners are a pop duo, Frankie (Miguel Pineda), of Mexican descent, and Nash (Jeff Barehand), a native American of the Choctaw Nation.

The complications that ensue are reminiscent of current events, but the goings-on remain, as always, light, upbeat and full of holiday cheer.

“It’s a different ‘Stardust,’ but it’s still fun,” said Linda Whitney, Harlequin’s artistic director and the show’s director. “It’s still a musical. It’s still funny.

“It’s the usual romantic comedy with a happy ending.”

Pineda, who was in Harlequin’s 2014 “Rock ’n’ Roll Twelfth Night,” is well known for his work with The Brown Edition. He’ll not only act and sing in this production, but also show off his guitar chops.

Part of the plot deals with the artistic challenges of b eing a woman in film (as did last month’s Olympia Film Festival). French actress Amelie (Christie Oldright, who starred in last summer’s “First Date”) shows up at the club. She’s preparing to direct her first film. It’s about the Mexican revolution, and she wants Frankie to star.

Returning characters include club owners Joy (Maggie Ferguson-Wagstaffe) and Louie (Christian Doyle), now the parents of 4-month-old Mitzi, who’ll be played by a realistic doll with a speaker incorporated into her costume.

Also back are Rita (Ashley Chandler) and the club’s other couple, Eddie (Bruce Haasl) and Rose (Amy Shephard, a regular who didn’t appear in last year’s edition).

Harlequin music director Bruce Whitney leads the band and appears as Stardust’s eccentric band leader, Nikolai. Also in the band are guitarist David Broyles, trumpeter Jerry Huff, bassist Rick Jarvela and drummer Andy Garness, who also has a walk-on role.

The show features such Latin American songs as “La Bamba,” “Guantanamera,” “Perfidia” and “Tequila” along with other popular tunes of the era and, of course, Christmas music. “We have a couple of Mexican Christmas carols that are adorable,” Linda Whitney said.

“I knew the songs,” said Scot Whitney, Harlequin’s managing artistic director and Linda Whitney’s husband, “but when I came in to a rehearsal and heard them live, it was like ‘what a great song’ over and over. The arrangements are gorgeous.”

In fact, though the show has a serious subtext that connects to issues that are still making news today, the music was a big part of the inspiration for the theme.

“In the late ’50s, early ’60s, there was a big Mexican influence in pop culture,” Linda Whitney said. “When I was in first grade, learning the Mexican hat dance was a big deal. We had costumes and we performed it.

“It’s time to celebrate the gifts that our culture has received from the Latin culture,” she said.

Of course, our culinary culture has received many gifts from our neighbors to the south, too. Which brings things around to those Mexican-inspired chocolate-chip cookies. If you’re still thinking about them, too, check out this recipe: https://norecipes.com/hot-and-spicy-chocolate-chip-cookie. (The Olympian didn’t bake a test batch, but doesn’t it sound delicious?)

‘The Stardust Christmas Fandango’

What: Harlequin Productions presents its 22nd “Stardust” holiday musical about the talented gang at Manhattan’s Stardust Club. This year’s plot revolves around a pop-music duo performing at the club and a French actress about to direct her first movie.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, plus Dec. 6-9, 14-16, 20-22 and 28-30; matinees at 2 p.m. Sunday, plus Dec. 10, 17 and 24, and 3 p.m. Dec. 23; and a New Year’s Eve celebration show at 7 p.m. Dec. 31.

Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

Tickets: $49 general admission, $45 for seniors and military, $25 for students and youth. Rush tickets are available for $30 or $20 for senior, military or youth a half-hour prior to curtain. For the Dec. 6 show, pay what you can.

More information: 360-786-0151, harlequinproductions.org