God bless us, poking fun
By Celia Wren
Friday, Dec. 2, 2011
Wherever Mae West is in the afterlife, does she know she's poking fun at Charles Dickens? The actress is a distinct presence in MetroStage's production of "A Broadway Christmas Carol," the musical that spoofs the Dickens classic while simultaneously cashing in on its sentiment. In this irreverent dramatization, the Ghost of Jacob Marley turns out to be a West avatar, complete with feathered hat and boa. Played by the talented Tracey Stephens, she sashays up to Scrooge and drawls her message in a voice dripping with I'm-no-angel sultriness. Predicting that future phantoms will arrive at midnight, "when the last stroke of Twelve has ceased to vibrate," she lets the words "stroke" and "vibrate" trill with innuendo. And when she turns to leave, she gives a risque wriggle with her rear end.
Such is the humor in this version, which lampoons the Dickens story while preserving some of its figgy-pudding sincerity and grafting in parodied show tunes. A local creation - Kathy Feininger, who devised it, was long affiliated with Round House Theatre - the musical might strike some as an unsatisfying compound that hints at more substantial fare. But it's obviously a crowd-pleaser: It was a longtime seasonal fixture at Round House, and MetroStage is mounting it for the second year in a row.
This time, Michael Sharp serves as director and choreographer, as well as filling the role of Scrooge (a part he previously played at Round House). Stephens - a member of the Capitol Steps - and music director Elisa Rosman are also new, while Matthew A. Anderson, seen in the 2010 MetroStage production, reprises his droll turn as The Man Who Isn't Scrooge. The result is a confident, energetic and plummy-sounding production that seems to press its comedy even further than last year's interpretation did.
That's particularly the case with Stephens's exuberant contributions, starting with her first spotlight-usurping moment as a philanthropist soliciting funds for the needy - a cameo that has her grabbing Sharp's Scrooge by his scarf and singing "Big Spender (Spend a Little Dime on the Poor)," a remake of the "Sweet Charity" standard. She brings gleeful lasciviousness to Mrs. Fezziwig, and she's delightfully twee as a tap-dancing version of Scrooge's sister Fan in a Shirley Temple-worthy polka dot dress. (Janine Sunday designed the ebullient costumes.) In the giddy Andrew Lloyd Webber tribute "The Phantom of Christmases Yet to Come" - a sequence that has Rosman, at the onstage piano, wearing a Phantom mask, Anderson wielding a chandelier and Stephens burdened with a tiny boat - her high notes could spark envy in Sarah Brightman.
Padding about in black trousers, dressing gown and nightcap, the able Sharp plays straight man - and you do need a straight man in a show whose waggish humor includes depicting Want and Ignorance (specters accompanying the Ghost of Christmas Present, in Dickens's original) as the puppets from "Avenue Q." Anderson is entertaining in all his incarnations - from a wimpy Bob Cratchit to a geriatric, walker-clutching Ghost of Christmas Past - but he's priceless as a truculent Tiny Tim, who has a mean gleam in his eye when he sings "(I'm Going to Walk) Tomorrow," a burlesque of the "Annie" favorite.
The number, like just about all the songs in "A Broadway Christmas Carol," gets a bite-sized airing of a verse or two - a sampling style some musical theater fans might find irritating. But judging from the delighted chuckles the audience regularly emitted on opening night, disgruntled critics will be in a minority, just as Ebenezer Scrooge was in a Yuletide-reverencing London.