Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the old chestnuts of the holiday season without a doubt, as evidenced by the scads of adaptations whether radio play, film, movie musical or animated feature. MetroStage has opted to make merry with Kathy Feininger’s show tune-driven riff on the classic tale.
Not an original musical like the versions penned by Bricusse/Fraser (Scrooge) or the Mencken/Ahrens (A Christmas Carol: The Musical that ran successfully for several years at Madison Square Garden [and is playing now at Toby’s Dinner Theatre]), Feininger’s lyrics are set to well-known (mostly) Broadway melodies from over two dozen shows. If the story of everyone’s favorite irascible, miserly curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge, is all too familiar, it’s the “Name That Tune” suspense of discovering which songs Feininger has matched to each scene that holds the audience. Feininger’s lyrics aptly carry the story although not all her lines and word choices lie equally well on the metre – most notably and ear-jarring, a cringe-inducing pronoun juxtaposition in a song from Avenue Q. Which also raises the issue of song selection. Audiences will surely recognize songs from the “warhorse” musicals – Annie, Phantom, Gypsy, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, and Cats – but some might be left scratching their heads to place tunes from Avenue Q, Roar of the Greasepaint, Follies or Thoroughly Modern Millie.
Allison Campbell has designed a Victorian gift box set, tastefully ornamented in holiday colors with ribbons and bows and wreaths. Janine Gulisano clothes the players in somber period attire with attention to detail, when not accessorizing them with a walker (complete with green dayglo tennis ball feet), a gift box torso, or wacky candelabra and a mask more befitting a production of La Cage Aux Folles. Gulisano had quite a challenge costuming two of the characters, in particular, who are required to make split second changes in the course of each covering a dozen roles each. Larry Kaye directs the production like a steam locomotive barreling down the track, only occasionally giving the cast a ballad break during which to catch their breaths. Nancy Harry’s choreography ranges from a little soft shoe to a bit of a waltz and is most fun when it affectionately pokes fun at the original Broadway material. It’s difficult to lay down some serious dance when the characters are darting on and off set like bolts of lightening.
The show’s strong suit is its zany quartet of a cast who milk the laughs out of the material in a manner reminiscent of the parodies which were a staple of 1950s and ‘60s comedy and variety television shows. Peter Boyer follows in the footsteps of Alastair Sim, Cyril Richard, Orson Wells, the brothers Barrymore, Albert Finney, Oscar the Grouch, Yosemite Sam, Fred Flinstone, Donald Duck, and Bill Murray, among others, as Mr. Scrooge. Boyer is a decidedly mild-mannered skinflint. Even while extolling the virtues of workhouses and jails as solutions to the problem of poverty, and an early grave as a fine way to resolve the surplus population, he’s not likely to scare the horses or any children in the audience. He does, however, have a fine voice and an appealingly sly sense of humor which are well showcased by tunes from Phantom, Les Miz, and 42nd Street.
Donna Migliaccio and Matthew A. Anderson, both recently seen in MetroStage’s Musical of Musicals: The Musical!, each play a dizzying array of characters with great glee. It’s a wonder that Migliaccio can remember her new lyrics having delivered award-caliber performances in several of the shows from which the songs are taken — from Mama Rose (Gypsy) to Mrs. Lovett (Sweeney Todd). It’s delightful to hear her tear the parodies of “Turn Back Old Man (Godspell),” “Big Spender (Sweet Charity),” and the earthy duet with Anderson in “Master of the House (Les Misérables).” Migliaccio does some amazingly funny turns as the ghost of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Present which I won’t spoil for you. Anderson covers the waterfront of male roles, from Scrooge’s nephew, the put-upon clerk, Bob Cratchit, the Spirit of Christmas Past (think Tim Conway on leave from the Old Ghosts’ Home) and so on. His jaw glides through a social class compendium of British accents from Upper Crust to Cockney, and here too it’s amazing he doesn’t trip over his own tongue. His wistful interpretation of Tiny Tim will bring tears to your eyes — not from sentiment, I can assure you.
Aaron Broderick is a one-man orchestra on the piano and also a pivotal player, conjuring up some macabre humor as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
It’s fun to second-guess the author by proposing alternative songs to go with various scenes. For example, Feininger chose “Good Morning” (Singing in the Rain) for Scrooge’s awakening on Christmas morn, but how about “Open a New Window” (Mama) or “Before the Parade Passes By” (Hello, Dolly). Or a recognizable theme song for Scrooge: “If I Were a Rich Man” (Fiddler on the Roof). Still, it is strange that a show barely a decade old has such a nostalgic feel to it. Didn’t the cast of “The Carol Burnett Show” do this thirty some years ago? If they had, they couldn’t have done it better than this madcap troupe.
A Broadway Christmas Carol
Created by Kathy Feininger
Directed by Larry Kaye
Choreographed by Nancy Harry
Music Directed by Aaron Broderick
Produced by MetroStage
Reviewed by Gary McMillan