Musical-theater purists need not see “A Broadway Christmas Carol” at MetroStage. But musical-theater fanatics who like to laugh should head to Alexandria with jingle bells on.
A passing familiarity with decades of musicals, from “Oklahoma!” through “Avenue Q,” would add to anyone’s enjoyment, because this show messes with song lyrics from at least 31 of them to tell Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol: A Ghost Story of Christmas.” It’s as if one of those visiting spirits took Scrooge to see “Forbidden Broadway” and he dreamed this. The result ranges from clever to corny, and the show is stubbornly amusing.
This is the fourth time MetroStage has done “A Broadway Christmas Carol,” which was first created 15 years ago by Kathy Feininger for Round House Theatre. It’s been directed with likable energy by Michael Sharp, who has played Scrooge in two past MetroStage productions. He and his cast — Peter Boyer, Russell Sunday and Tracey Stephens, along with music director Howard Breitbart at the piano — have fun, and it’s infectious.
Sharp, Breitbart and Stephens are veterans of the Capitol Steps political satire troupe. Boyer and Sunday have extensive stage credits. Their combined experience keeps the show on track musically, with bada-bing, bada-boom delivery.
The concept works best at a breakneck pace, and this cast hurtles through it. The occasional glitches — an electric “candle” that won’t light up, a costume (cleverly concocted by Janine Sunday) that resists a quick change — actually help the show’s goofball vibe. This isn’t a timeless epic. It’s a tongue-in-cheek, sometimes cheesy send-up. Don’t expect to hear more than one or two verses of any tune. This is the Cliff’s Notes version of all it touches upon.
The first number to get the treatment is Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight” from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” The three performers march onto the intimate stage singing “A Broadway Christmas Carol Tonight.” Then they launch into the story of Scrooge, making fast and furious use of the red and gold stage-within-a-stage (scenic design by Allison Campbell) outlined in Christmas lights and bookended by wreaths. With Boyer as Scrooge and Sunday and Stephens as everyone else, the actors run on and off through a glittery red curtain and two farce-friendly doors.
In his money-counting office, Scrooge, given a far deeper characterization by Boyer than you’d expect, grabs a top hat and cane to sing, “I’m in the money / I’m getting rich by taking money from you — bah!” (apologies to composer Harry Warren, lyricist Al Dubin and “42nd Street”). As a flirtatious charity lady, Stephens shimmies and flashes her ruffled bloomers as she sings to Scrooge, “Hey, big spender / Spend a little dime on the poor” (riffing on Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’s “Sweet Charity”). Later she wears a Mae West get-up, draped in chains as Marley’s ghost, intoning, “clankety, clankety, clankety, boom, boom, boom.” Sondheim’s “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd” gets twisted into the Act II curtain raiser; Sunday nearly strangles himself to sound like little Tiny Tim.
You get the idea.
“A Broadway Christmas Carol” will remind theater buffs of the aforementioned “Forbidden Broadway,” a New York revue that for years has skewered the latest shows and biggest stars. Others of a certain age will hark back to those classic movie spoofs on the “Carol Burnett Show” in the 1960s and ’70s.
This show doesn’t rise to the level of the old Burnett skits, nor is it as incisively satirical as “Forbidden Broadway,” but it is a mighty jolly confection on its own.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
created by Kathy Feininger. Directed and choreographed by Michael Sharp. Sound design, Robert Garner; lighting design, Jessica Lee Winfield. Tickets $50. About 1 hour 45 minutes, including intermission. Presented through Dec. 22 by MetroStage at 1201 N. Royal St., Alexandria. Visit www.metrostage.org or call 703-548-9044.