A Child’s Christmas in Wales, A Christmas Carol, Seasonal Disorder and An iMusical Christmas!
A Holiday Labor of Love!
It was a difficult week for me and some of my close friends. Many of us were called into to our human resources offices and heard those dreaded words, “I’m so sorry, but we had to make cuts because of the bad economy, and…well…it’s so hard to say this to you…but, we had to let you go, and would you mind signing this release form?” The last thing on my mind when I finally arrived home late that evening was Chanukah or Christmas or Kwaanza or holiday cheer.
So, I came home after getting “the pink slip,” and sat down at my computer, pondering how to begin picking up the pieces, when I logged into this website. I thought I was dreaming when I saw snow flakes falling on the DCTS banner. Growing up in Buffalo, NY – where we actually LOVE snow flakes – my spirits started to lift when I clicked on the title – A Child’s Christmas in Wales, and listened to this gorgeously heartwarming radio theatre version of Dylan Thomas’s holiday poem, conceived with love by the Audible Group. Founded by two actors I admire and respect – Susan Lynskey and “The Voice” – James Konicek. sound designer Matthew Nielson (SomeRandomSound), and the woman who is the person I talk to all through the day, every day, my biggest inspiration, my brilliant editor Lorraine Treanor. I am so grateful to the 23 local actors and their children and Matthew and Lorraine, who donated their time, and with love in their hearts, recorded this beautiful holiday gift for all of us.
You’ll hear the narrator (Carter Jahncke) tell the story of Christmas day in the seaside Swansea village — boots crunch the hard packed snow, Mrs. Prothero yells ‘Fire!’, the postman mittens manfully on the door, the uncles and aunts gather by the fire, the presents are opened, the boys carol to the scary house, and the bells of Christmas toll. It’s fun to guess which voices belong to who in the star studded cast that includs Jennifer Mendenhall, Michael Kramer, Naomi Jacobson, John Lescault, Emery Battis (who, at 92, may be the oldest performer in town), and so many others.
We at DCTS hope that the free podcast will encourage people to donate to the N Street Village women’s shelter. As Susan Lynskey, who co-directed it, said: “Two years ago, Nancy Robinette, introduced me to the inspiring work of N St Village, which she had come to know through its volunteer programs. That year we created a live radio theatre performance as a benefit for the shelter. This year, The Audible Group felt especially compelled to help because in these difficult economic times, charities are struggling to meet even the most basic fundraising goals. As actors, we rarely have ‘means’ but we can give of ourselves. We look forward to creating these radio works as annual part of the DC theatre community’s holiday giving traditions.”
So, light that fireplace, roast those chestnuts on that open fire, light your menorah and kinara, spin that dreidel, eat those latkes, open your presents, cut yourself a slice of fruitcake, and make yourself a cup of hot cocoa and as that great song commands us, “Forget your troubles, come on get happy!” So, G-d bless you each and every one! And now, click here and let the holiday spirit envelope you.
Young Scrooge and Tiny Tim Steal This Carol
Between 1994 and 2003, it was an annual tradition for me to travel up to Madison Square Garden to see the musical version of A Christmas Carol written by Alan Menken (Beauty and the Beast) and Lynn Ahrens (Ragtime). Director Mike Ockrent’s lavish production had a cast of 70, a 25-piece orchestra, and an eye-popping set design that surrounded the audience, transported them to London in 1843, and was one of the first mega-shows to have it snow all over the audience. I could never understand why this rendition never made it to our local stages, so I was so excited when Toby Orenstein brought it to her Baltimore dinner theatre location for this holiday season.
I saw Toby’s production with my social group The Ushers on December 13th, and thankfully, it was very faithful to the production I saw all those years, with colorful, festive costumes, great chains, fun ghosts, a terrific orchestra, and wonderful heartwarming performances. It’s rare when I agree totally with a critic, but I do agree with Leslie Weisman’s review of the show. But, what I’d like to add to Leslie’s review is how much I loved the performances of the two young actors who played Young Scrooge and Tiny Tim, who are both making their Toby’s debuts.
Zachary McKinney is an 8th grader at Monsignor Slade Catholic School in Glen Burnie, Maryland. He has appeared in productions of Oklahoma, where his roles included playing Ike Skidmore in Oklahoma, Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, and Barnaby in Hello Dolly. This spring, he will be playing Oliver (“Daddy”) Warbucks in Annie.
Zachary is lucky. He gets to play the Young Scrooge before he becomes detested by everyone in his town and in the audience. Lynn Ahrens and Alan Menken gave Zachary the most gorgeous song of the show to sing, “A Place Called Home,” and he delivers it with sweetness and strength and regret, when he sings the song with the loves of his life – his sister Fan and his bride-to-be Emily, two women he loved and lost.
John Morrison is 9 years old, and is making his stage debut. I’ve seen young actors overact the role of Tiny Tim in so many productions of A Christmas Carol, but this is the first time I can remember seeing a young actor in a musical version of A Christmas Carol who not only looked adorable in the role, but could also act and bring out the sweetness and kindness and humanity of Tiny Tim – without gaining sympathy because his character is crippled. John’s duet “You Mean More To Me” with David James, who played his father Bob Cratchit, was one of the most wonderful touching moments of this musical theatre season.
You want to know why I try to encourage and write articles about the talented crop of young actors in our area? Here’s one reason: “It was nice to meet you earlier this week at Toby’s Dinner Theater in Baltimore. I am the father of Zachary McKinney who plays young Scrooge and is also in the ensemble of the show. It was very kind of you to speak with Zach after the show and give him encouragement about his performance. I know he was very excited to hear it and gave him a nice boost. ”
Zany Christmas Improvs
I got a double dose of improv cheer Friday, December 20th at Source Theatre, as I returned for my annual visit to Washington Improv Theater’s annual Seasonal Disorder and An iMusical Christmas! Talk about loony and creative and genius and zany – all wrapped up as a Christmas present for the stunned, laughing and appreciative audience.
Before both shows began, audience members filled out a form that asked for name, occupation, place of birth, two words that describe them, their pet peeve, the best and worst holiday gifts they have ever received and a favorite family holiday tradition. All of these answers are used to create the Seasonal Disorder performance, and the improvised holiday musical the audiences were about to see. It is remarkable how these young actors and not-so-great singers, can do this in a quick thinking, high energy hour of fun and creativity. You have to see it to believe it!
One guy invites his parents to visit him and his wife for Christmas. The man likes to dress up a pet raccoon for Christmas, who proceeds to bite his Mom when she tries to pet it. The father constantly insults the son, because he is a loser whose only income is a few dollars he gets from people subscribing to his blog. The guy’s wife receives an emotional poem about “lips” from her ex-girlfriend, and decides to leave her husband and return to her ex-girlfriend. A pregnant skeleton has a talk with this guy, trying to put him on the right path of life. Make no bones about it, the show got even loonier after this. Another guy has cancerous tumors and is convinced by one of his friends that getting rid of his meddling, overbearing mother will cure him, and it does. He is reassured by one of his friends, that if he goes into cardiac arrest that it will be OK, because, “I learned CPR in Greece and it should work here.” Another guy is a “thinker” who convinces the guy who lost the wife to the ex, and the discarded mother, to become “thinkers,” and to join him on the road to become missionaries and teachers to spread the “thinker” theology…. You get the picture, although you will never see the show. Yours will be different. Totally.
And, now to the An iMusical Christmas. It was the best iMusical I have ever seen. It took place in a “newly opened manicure salon,” where one of the manicurists is using a razor blade to file a customer’s palm. Quickly, the show became a multi-layered really funny musical with hummable, catchy songs. An Asian sandwich maker only accepts cash for his wares and no one has any cash), so customers run out with the goods and never pay. An uptight businessman, who never lets go of his BlackBerry, goes to “Funtown”- some Latin country on vacation, but is too busy answering his phone to pay attention to his wife or to enjoy his vacation. In a very funny moment, Warren Buffet calls and the businessman, probably the only time in his life, doesn’t pick up the phone and Warren Buffet leaves a message, something like “This is Warren Buffet, I was going to offer you $5 million dollars, but I only give it to people who pick up the phone and talk to me.” The audience howled!
Two opportunistic and cunning señoritas steal his BlackBerry, sell it and come to the USA to take over his business, while a smoker who takes lots of breaks becomes the only guy on the block who has any money, and buys everybody out. A guy who runs a Starbucks/pants-for-sale business is doing lousy business, and becomes wealthy when he is convinced by the sandwich guy to move his pants into the front window. The scene of tourists buying pants by the dozens and “OOOH and AAYING” and trying them on – was one of the highlights for me.
It was Urinetown meets Meet John Doe meets West Side Story. The score they quickly created was brilliant and very hummable, with the audience joining in on the chorus of: “There’s No Service In This World Anymore,” I Suck at Business,” (which takes place at the unemployment office), “Break-Time,” and “Funtown.” It was a Funtown time for all.
Here is what Director Travis Ploeger – who also accompanied the crazy cast on keyboards – had to say about the performance: “I really thought this show had some surprising moments. I liked the “Break-Time” song, in that it was a “narrator” type song, instead of being sung by actual characters in the show- something we don’t do a lot of. There was a nice moment where Mark’s Asian sandwich character got the chance to wish for a break-time, while Shawn’s business flunkee character got to revel in it. I liked the energy of the last song, and I liked the surprise of the “Funtown” song that happened in the middle of the show.; we went from being at a bar, to in a cab, to at a donkey show! All with a peppy number. That’s the magic of musicals and improve.”
Congrats to the cast of Seasonal Disorder: Mike Bass, Topher Bellavia, Mark Chalfant, Brian Coleman, Catherine Deadman, Karin Hammerburg, David Johnson, Tyler Korba, Karen Lange, and Colin Murchie, and to the cast of An iMusical Christmas: Mark Chalfant, Ben Furnas, Jordan Hirsch, Karen Lange, Letty Tomlinson, Shawn Westfal, Greer Smith, Matt Berman, Katie Klein and accompanist Travis Ploeger.
A Joyous Kwanzaa! Chag Chanukah Sameach! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! My holiday wish is for all of you to buy tickets to these shows, and for you to snuggle with a loved one or a pet – and listen to A Child’s Christmas In Wales.
The A Child’s Christmas In Wales podcast is available free on DCTheatreScene.com only until January 16th.
A Christmas Carol plays through January 4th at Toby’s Baltimore -5625 O’Donnell Street, in the Best Western Hotel and Conference Center., in Baltimore, MD. To make reservations, go to their website www.tobysdinnertheatre.com, or call their box office (410) 649-1660.
Seasonal Disorder AND An iMusical Christmas! plays through December 27th at Source -1835 14th Street, NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, go to www.washingtonimprovtheater.com, or call (202) 204-7770.