If you’re trying to decide which of this season’s holiday theatrical offerings to attend, why not just see them all at one sitting?
Capital Stage Company is presenting “Every Christmas Story Ever Told!!” by Michael Carleton, John Alvarez and Jim Fitzgerald with original music by Will Knapp, directed by Greg Alexander. It is, in a nutshell, hilarious.
A man sitting behind me told his companions that he had seen the play the year before but had laughed so much that he didn’t remember a lot of it, so had returned to see it again. That pretty much sums it up.
In the same vein as the “reduced Shakespeare” productions, the authors have taken just about every beloved holiday story ever told, added a bit of Christmas history from around the world (who knew that Christmas had such a black side?) and a few familiar classic Christmas commercials, and blended them all more or less seamlessly into about an hour and a half of laughter. The play ends with a zany rendition of every Christmas carol ever sung, complete with choreography. Sort of.
Of course, the thing that makes all this zaniness work is three incredible actors, Eric Wheeler, Gary S. Martinez, and Anthony D’Juan, playing, conveniently “Eric,” “Gary,” and “Anthony.”
Eric is the one who wants to put on a traditional version of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” the way it was written and who tries valiantly to do so, though his fellow actors are tired of doing only Dickens and want to salute all the other “B.H.C.s” (beloved holiday classics) instead. Eric finally relents, on the condition that he also be allowed to perform the straight version of “A Christmas Carol” too.
The trio elicits suggestions from the audience for favorite movies, television programs, Christmas foods, traditions, commercials, etc. It doesn’t stop at Christmas, but also gives a nod to Chanukah ("It bears similarities to other Jewish festivals: They tried to kill us. We survived. Let's eat!") and Kwanzaa ("The best part of Kwanzaa is that you'll never see a special called 'A Very Brady Kwanzaa'.")
But the meat of the show is the retelling of all the stories you know so well.
Wheeler gets a chance to display his comic expertise as such characters as the Grinch, Hermey (the elf who wants to be a dentist in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”) and, in act 2, makes a terrific Scrooge/George Baily in a salute to “A Christmas Carol” and “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
D’Juan is hilarious in all of his roles, but especially as the Ghost of Christmas Future, where he does an unbelievable charade.
Martinez is loveable in a “cowardly lion” sort of way, a big man with the gentleness and simplicity of a child, bringing all the heart-tugging moments. He gives a beautiful rendition of Linus’ “True Meaning of Christmas” from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” and he plays nearly all the characters (except George Bailey) from “It’s a Wonderful Life.” In the midst of all the frenzy on stage, Martinez becomes the heart of the season.
They nearly don’t do “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” because of copyright infringement problems, but decide it’s OK if the hero becomes Gustav the Green-nosed Reingoat,
A section on fruitcake gives an opportunity to revisit the set of the old “Dating Game” and there are salutes to Christmas in Australia and in W(h)ales. Over the course of the 60 minute first act, nearly every well known Christmas show is covered, even if it is only in bad puns or passing comments.
During the 15 minute intermission, the audience is invited to participate in another BHC tradition – buying stuff (candy, drinks, subscriptions to the rest of this year’s season, etc.)
Act two is only twenty minutes long and is designed to be the Eric’s promised “A Christmas Carol” until Gary realizes that they have forgotten “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Not until you have seen these two shows interwoven do you realize how much alike the two classics are. (Wheeler also does a pretty good Jimmy Stewart impression.)
Jonathan Williams has designed a clever utilitarian set that folds and unfolds. Rebecca Redmond is credited with costume design–and some of those quick changes are quite ingenious. The lighting design of Steve Decker and sound design of Brad Thompson are also critical to the effectiveness of this play.
Save yourself a bit of extra time for holiday shopping by getting your fix of BHCs in one spot. “Every Christmas Story Ever Told!!” is an absolute delight. Evening start times for this show only are 7 p.m., so the kids can enjoy it as well.