Hoots for the Holidays

Our reviewer joins the Gaslight Theatre in engaging in a little bit of righteous recycling

The biggest trend this year has been talking about how we can each reduce our carbon footprint (talking about it, rather than actually doing it). One excellent way to go green is to recycle, and I am pleased to report that the Gaslight Theatre is recycling an entertaining Christmas show, a not entirely serious but certainly heartfelt adaptation of A Christmas Carol called Scrooge, or Older but Miser.

In the interest of reducing my own noxious emissions, I'll recycle some of my review of Gaslight's 2004 production of the show. Please note that this is not 100 percent recycled material, and some updates occur within and after the quoted material:

"The Dickens tale has been reset in 1950s (Dickensville,) America, and sprinkled with songs lifted from sources as diverse as Ray Charles" and Elvis Presley. (Some of the songs have changed since last time, which is a good way to keep the show fresh.)

"This is hardly the usual Gaslight fare; it's a story of one man's reform, rather than a comic melodrama full of bumbling heroes and unredeemable villains. The company may be dispensing with the Gaslight formula, but not with the Gaslight style; the audience is still expected to boo every time Scrooge says 'Bah, humbug.' Fair enough, but it's awfully hard to draw cheers when one of the heroines declares, 'I bet I can sell Uncle Scrooge a Christmas raffle ticket!' That's not nearly as inspiring as vowing to save the universe from Mandork of Zog. ...

"Even so, this year's holiday production features many fine things, chief among them the Scrooge of David Orley. This Gaslight veteran usually dons silly costumes to play one-dimensional villains, and monochromatic villains at that, not the colorful sidekicks who get all the laughs. But as Scrooge, Orley has an opportunity to play an actual human being, and one who is transformed over the course of the show. ... Orley is authoritative in his gruff misanthropy, yet fully sympathetic when he finally takes the musical advice he's offered: 'Unchain Your Heart.'"

This year, Mike Yarema plays Bob Cratchit, a diner owner facing huge medical bills for his son, Tiny Tim. Yarema gives a gentle, low-key performance that almost makes you think this is normal theater, not Gaslight. (If only the actors would stop playing directly to the audience, the transformation would be nearly complete.) Todd Thompson is delightfully nerdy, with a cracking voice and high-water pants, as the enthusiastic small-town mayor, and Joe Cooper is his usual mischievous self as Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Future (complete with a funny gag involving a car).

OK, back to the recycled material: "As usual in Gaslight shows, most of the best singing is provided by the women in the cast, in this case"--oops, a few cast changes here: Deborah Klingenfus as Scrooge's niece, Janet Roby as Mrs. Cratchit and Sarah Vanek as Scrooge's dorky but appealing secretary. As before, Robert Shaw is perfectly cast as the swivel-hipped, Elvis-impersonating Ghost of Christmas Present. (Note that different actors assume certain roles for some performances.)

This year's post-show holiday olio does not look promising on paper: "Grandma's Country Christmas Jamboree," a hootenanny featuring such yuletide nonstandards as "Uncle Luther Made the Stuffin'," "Leroy the Redneck Reindeer" and, yes, "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." Somehow, the Gaslight cast and the lively three-piece Gaslight band, let by keyboardist Linda Ackermann, pull it all together into an entertaining half-hour.

Cooper is, as expected, a gas as the well-padded Grandma, sort of a cornpone version of Pat McMahon's Aunt Maud character on the old Wallace and Ladmo Show up in Phoenix. The other cast members shed their dignity and don overalls and Daisy Mae dresses and get through the olio in fine spirit, although at the Sunday matinee, only Yarema seemed to be having a really good time in the song-and-dance numbers.

It's odd that for a show that's so family-friendly, the median audience age on Sunday afternoon was well beyond puberty; indeed, a lot of the folks crunching the popcorn were no doubt carrying AARP cards. Rest assured that Gaslight's Scrooge is good fun for kids as well as adults, but if you're looking for a holiday show with more of a satirical edge, bear in mind that Borderlands Theater will soon engage in some recycling of its own: Its annual Tucson Pastorella.

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