Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Christmas Carol

Add cJohn Lamb, left, and Greg Alexander star in the
B Street Theatre production of "A Christmas Carol,"
running through Dec. 27. B Street Theatre
staff/Courtesy photoaption
If it’s November, it must be time to think about “A Christmas Carol.”

This Charles Dickens story has been with us since 1843, when it was first published. In the past 173 years, we have experienced the tale in just about every way possible. It’s been read aloud by the author himself, and there have been stage plays, movies, musicals, a soap opera and even a production performed entirely in Klingon (Scrooge is named SQuja’).

It has been performed by humans, puppets, cartoon characters, dogs and Muppets. Ebenezer Scrooge has been played by Lionel Barrymore, Stan Freberg, Vanessa Williams, Mr. Magoo and Scrooge McDuck, among a host of others.

What more can possibly be done to this beloved holiday classic?

Buck Busfield of the B Street Theatre has figured out a new twist, believe it or not. Busfield’s Christmas shows have become noted for their unusual twists and turns and this “Christmas Carol,” part of the B Street Family Series, is no different.

Sam Reno’s intricate scenic design gives no hint of what is to come, other than noticing that there are an awful lot of doors, many of them a considerable distance off the floor.

We find, as we expect, Ebenezer Scrooge sitting at his desk on Christmas Eve. But Greg Alexander’s Scrooge is complaining about the fact that for the past 173 years, he has to re-enact this story over and over again and he’s sick and tired of it. And the premise is set.

While this is predominately a one-man show, Alexander is joined by four incredibly talented actors listed as “ensemble.” Amy Kelly, Nestor Campos Jr., John Lamb and Megan Wicks play every character who is not Scrooge, which often involves very quick costume changes.

Scrooge decides to outwit the ghosts by drinking lots of tea to keep himself awake so he won’t have to have the same dream again this year. Thus the story becomes real, not a dream. Scrooge doesn’t want to go through the angst of redemption at his gravesite yet again, but redemption comes anyway and is accomplished instead by an intervention so fast-paced that it left the audience breathless with laughter.

The effectiveness of this story relies in no small part on the lighting design of Ron Madonia and the clever “easy on, easy off” costumes of Paulette Sand-Gilbert. There was more than one occasion when I wished they would do a “Noises Off” version of this show because I’m sure what was going on back stage was crazier than what we were seeing on stage.

I will admit that at the beginning I did not like Busfield’s premise, and the middle of the show didn’t seem to know exactly where it was going, but by the end, I decided that I did like it after all.

The little kids in the audience loved it — there is an awful lot of slapstick and other visual humor that appealed to them. But I hope that at some point their parents take them to see a real version of the Dickens classic! It would be a shame if they grew up thinking this was the real deal.

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