Humbug With Humor

'Scrooge' is not typical Gaslight fare, but it's still got a lot of appeal

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol remains touching and indestructible, no matter what befalls it. Ebenezer Scrooge has been played by everyone from George C. Scott and Patrick Stewart to Rich Little and Mister Magoo, and in every version, the story somehow rattles through the more sentimental chambers of our hearts with the insistence of Marley's ghost.

Gaslight Theatre has revived its version of the tale, called Scrooge, or Older but Miser. Dickens survives the adaptation easily, even though the Gaslight show still, after several years, can't quite settle on what sort of story it wants to tell. The Dickens tale has been reset in 1950s smalltown America, and sprinkled with songs lifted from sources as diverse as Ray Charles and Cabaret.

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.

Also, the first act ends weakly, by Gaslight standards, with a happy little song and dance number. The stakes haven't been raised; the conflict hasn't been heightened; and we're left wondering if the house lights have been brought up too early for intermission.

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. It's a lot like that episode of Deep Space Nine when all the actors who labored under heavy alien makeup every week got to play human characters. Orley is authoritative in his gruff misanthropy, yet fully sympathetic when he finally takes the musical advice he's offered: "Unchain Your Heart."

It's also nice to see Dan Gunther playing something resembling a regular guy, a 1950s TV-dad version of Bob Cratchit (probably not much of a stretch for Gunther). As usual in Gaslight shows, most of the best singing is provided by the women in the cast, in this case Karin Hendricks as Scrooge's niece, Deborah Klingenfus as Mrs. Cratchit and Sarah Vanek as Scrooge's secretary. Robert Shaw is no slouch as the swivel-hipped Elvis-impersonating Ghost of Christmas Present. (Note that different actors assume certain roles for some performances.)

The main show, as always, is followed by a vaudeville-style olio. This segment used to have an almost-equal balance of songs and bad-joke blackouts, but it's increasingly weighted toward the music--particularly in the current "Boogie Woogie Santa Olio." The crew has rounded up Christmas pop songs that, for the most part, aren't rammed through our ears mercilessly between Thanksgiving and Christmas: things like "Happy Elf," "Reindeer Mambo" and "Santa Baby" (with the irrepressible Karin Hendricks looking way too happy to be a convincing Marilyn Monroe).

So unless you're totally averse to heartwarming entertainment, Gaslight Theatre's holiday show holds its usual appeal--even if it will sometimes have you scratching your head and muttering, "What the Dickens?"

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