All Over the Map
A most unusual Christmas Carol in Washington, D.C.; an on-the-air It's a Wonderful Life in Detroit; and a very Capote holiday show in San Diego.
Kathy Feininger has learned a lesson that many a musical adaptor of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has learned before her: "It's hard to find things that rhyme with 'Scrooge.' Once you've used 'stooge', you're in trouble." Undaunted, Feininger is now in her fourth season of adapting and directing A Broadway Christmas Carol for Round House Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland. Her show, which uses parodies of show tunes to tell the timeless tale of old Ebenezer's redemption, was invented a decade ago as a one-act. It toured schools and civic organizations until finding a home at Round House.
"Every year, we adapt the show," Feininger explains. "It was designed to fit on whatever set we discovered when we walked into the theater. Now it's turned into this tradition where we follow whatever mainstage show is up in November/December. So far, we've done the show in the castle from The Lion in Winter and the hotel room from Communicating Doors. Last year, we were on the set of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."
This season's production is at home on the set of Home, the Samm-Art Williams Tony-winner being directed at Round House by Thomas W. Jones II. But A Broadway Christmas Carol employs the same concept as always: a multitude of characters limned by a three-person cast (plus the piano player, who briefly joins the fray as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come), an avalanche of Broadway song parodies, and lots and lots of gags.
"It sounds ridiculous, and it is," Feininger confesses. "It's completely and totally insane. However, it really does tell the story. Tiny Tim...I hate to give this away, but let's just say he sings a very famous song from a Charles Strouse musical and wears a red wig." Round House, by the way, will soon have a new home of its own: The mid-sized Equity company will open the doors of its new theater in Bethesda come May of next year.
Second City in Detroit is doing It's A Wonderful Life, and the many devotees of that movie will be glad to hear that the company is not giving it a typical Second City-style treatment.
In other words, this isn't a parody or some sort of irreverent remake. The script is intact and the only alteration is a simple one: They're doing it as a radio show. It's a Wonderful Life Radio Drama, co-produced with Olympia Entertainment and Marty Bufalini, is being staged the two weekends before Christmas as a live radio show, with actors providing a panoply of sound effects as well as playing the characters.
"This is very true to the classic film," says George Bournias, marketing director of Second City. "Our George Bailey is a dead-on soundalike. It's not a spoof at all; it's done very much like a classic radio drama." On December 14, this neo-classic radio drama will be broadcast on contemporary radio: Detroit's Q 95.5's "Mojo in the Morning" show will air It's a Wonderful Life live, in its entirety.
Fans of satire need not feel left out: The Detroit theater is also offering Crouching Reindeer, Hidden Santa, which Bournias describes as "more of a traditional Second City holiday show"--meaning, we assume, that it is less-than-reverent towards various Yuletide traditions.
THE TRUMAN SHOW
Another less-than-traditional Christmas entertainment is Holiday Memories at the North Coast Repertory Theater in San Diego. Based on two Truman Capote stories about the Christmas season, Memories takes audiences into the Deep South of Capote's youth, with all its peculiarities. Still, says director Sean Murray (North Coast's artistic director), there's something in this show for everyone.
"It does have a universality to it," says Murray. "Despite its trappings, it becomes more than a cute Christmas show. People respond to the relationship between Buddy and Miss Sook [lead characters and stand-ins for Capote and his beloved great aunt], the simplicity of an earlier era, these 'odd-ducks' trying to fit in and live in a world that sees them as strange. The story is bittersweet; it avoids being too sugary or sentimental, and the audience likes that quality."
Murray explains that since the San Diego Repertory Theatre has the market cornered on A Christmas Carol, having offered it annually for 25 years (Murray directed three of those presentations), North Coast has continued to explore less traditional options for the season: e.g., Alfred Uhry's The Last Night of Ballyhoo and Jack Neary's First Night. "Our tongue-in-cheek rule," says Murray, "Is that there has to be a Christmas tree somewhere on the set." Meanwhile, audience reaction to Holiday Memories has been so positive that the theater is considering making it a yearly event.