The earlier and earlier onset of the holiday season, marked by 24-7 Christmas radio and Santa greeting you at CVS in early November, is enough to drive a sane person underground until December 26th. However, despite the onerous onset of “Christmas Creep”, the yearly retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol somehow never goes out of style.
MetroStage puts their own stamp on Dickens’ tale with A Broadway Christmas Carol, a kinetic, toe-tapping holiday confection of a revue, featuring a talented trio of performers and clever Dickensian style parodies of Broadway show tunes.
Kudos to Kathy Feininger for hitting upon such a simple yet devilishly clever premise. Her sharp wit and unabashed love for Broadway elevate her creation above the yearly pack of faithful Dickens retreads.
Pulling off such a revue-style show with only three people is intensely demanding, in that it requires a carefully choreographed madness both onstage and behind the scenes. Just ask the seasoned chaps of the Reduced Shakespeare Company.
Enter Michael Sharp, who wears several hats: director, choreographer, and Scrooge. As director, he confidently wrangles himself and his two co-stars into a nearly seamless rhythm of exposition, comic business, wacky costume changes, and song breaks. Sharp’s choreography never really wows – perhaps a side effect of the constraints of the stage – but it serves nonetheless as an entertaining placeholder for the razzle dazzle of B-way productions.
As for Sharp’s performance, he proves an able, ultimately sympathetic Scrooge with graceful dancing and a pleasing tenor. Most of the audience’s attention is eaten up by the myriad characters portrayed by co-stars Tracey Stephens and Matthew A. Anderson, but Sharp makes the most of his time in the spotlight. His signature moment comes late in the show, as he pleads for Tiny Tim’s life in a funny, bittersweet send up of “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables.
Tracey Stephens is a firecracker who keeps the show humming along. With no disrespect to her energetic costars, Stephens frequently operates on another level. Her performance is suitably hammy and magnetic; her comic delivery, honed with the likes of DC’s Capitol Steps and the Groundlings and facial mugging are hilarious, and she packs a surprisingly impressive operatic soprano voice. Stephens’ best number is her jazzy send up of “Hey, Big Spender”, wherein she transforms from a little lady of charity into a sashaying tigress in an attempt to loosen Scrooge’s purse strings on behalf of the less fortunate.
Matthew A. Anderson contributes powerful vocals and a chameleonic facility for navigating a diverse array of characters. He is equally effective as the crotchety Spirit of Christmas Past, Scrooge’s effete nephew Fred, and a hilarious, unhinged version of Tiny Tim. Anderson has a slight tendency to shoot over the top and drown out his costars, which could be simply a character choice in certain cases. Luckily, he seems to know when to throttle it back and rejoin the fold.
Despite the many positives, several botched entrances and rushed tempos disrupted the show’s otherwise smooth rhythm. In addition, a few prop and set malfunctions made for unintended moments of comedy. To their credit, the game cast rolled with the punches, determined not to let anything derail the fun.
Broadway musicals fans and Christmas lovers can find common ground in this novel interpretation of Dickens’ classic. The spirited cast, big laughs, and inventive premise obscure the production’s few shortcomings. Even the biggest humbug would be well served to venture out to MetroStage for an early dose of Christmas cheer.
A Broadway Christmas Carol runs through December 18, 2011 at Metro Stage, 1201 North Royal Street, Alexandria, Virginia.
A Broadway Christmas Carol
Book and Lyrics by Kathy Feininger
Adapted from “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens
Directed/Choreographed by Michael Sharp
Music Direction by Elisa Rosman
Produced by MetroStage
Reviewed by Ben Demers
Running Time approx. 1 hr, 45 mins (15 minute intermission)