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'Humbug' With Heart

The Gaslight Theatre's take on the story of Scrooge is a complete delight

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In case you haven't noticed, it's that most &#%@$ time of the year.

You know the one—when the newspaper arrives engorged with glossy ads to tempt you to venture out before dawn to shove and grab, and swipe your credit card until the magnetic stripe wears out. When stores' regular merchandise is displaced by peculiar—and pointless—crap, and by décor that at other times of the year would be appropriate only in brothels. And when a new crop of cavities is cultivated by cookies, candy and other calorie-laden cuisine.

Yes, it's Christmas, a time of magic and mania. But what is truly miraculous is that there are those who manage to slog through the madness, making an indomitable commitment to embrace what the season is really about: making people laugh, eating popcorn, listening to cleverly corrupted Christmas carols, and booing the bah-humbug guy until he understands that his Grumpy Gus attitude really sucks.

In these parts, it's the gang at the Gaslight Theatre who is committed to salvaging the season for us. The current production, Scrooge, is a spirited and silly interpretation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. This is a fun and frolicking romp with nary a seriously cynical streak in its refashioned story of Ebenezer Scrooge and the folks who, in spite of his stingy spirit, never give up shoveling good will his way.

In writer/director Peter Van Slyke's version, tailor-made for the Gaslight, there are some inventions that Dickens (who wrote his story in 1843) missed, particularly that of setting the story in the 1950s. Bob and Gwen Cratchit (Todd Thompson and Maria Alburtus-Gawne) own a diner in the town of Dickensville. They have a sick son, Tiny Tim (Anchor Erickson), who looks remarkably well for someone who, we are told, is quite unwell due to some unspecified illness, and is in need of an operation too expensive for the Cratchits, who obviously need an injection of Obamacare. But there was no such thing in the 1950s. Bob Cratchit goes to the local savings and loan, an institution that was indeed still around in the '50s, to ask Mr. Scrooge (David Orley) for a loan. His plea is met with a "Bah! Humbug!" So the caring and generous citizens of Dickensville, led by Mayor Fezziwig (Mike Yarema), are selling raffle tickets to raise money for Tim's operation.

Meanwhile, Scrooge's dead partner in the savings and loan, Jacob Marley (Joe Cooper), decides he needs to intervene, which he can do since there were still helpful ghosts able to teach critical lessons in the '50s. So he scares Scrooge out of his wits in an apparition in which he predicts Scrooge will be visited by a couple of other apparitions who will attempt to encourage him to see the error of his ways.

So the Ghost of Christmas Past (Tarreyn Van Slyke) floats through the air in a festooned hula-hoop-type contraption, which reminded me of something—oh, what is it? Oh, yeah, how the Good Witch Glinda makes an entrance in Wicked, but with much more, uh, conservative technology. Scrooge gets a glimpse of his younger self, who did seem to have something akin to a heart, but refused to use it. Scrooge still isn't too impressed and retreats into slumber.

Then the Ghost of Christmas Present (Jake Chapman) appears as an Elvis-type dude, dressed formally, including a bizarre white bouffant that looks like lacquered cotton candy. He lets Scrooge take a peek at what the folks in Dickensville are saying about him behind his back. This ghost is one cool dude who reminds Scrooge that the Christmas spirit is not about the "dough-re-mi, man."

But it takes Marley returning to show him the stone marking his grave to really give Scrooge the kick in the pants that leads to his transformation. And here again, there is a departure from Dickens' telling: Scrooge, after buying all the raffle tickets the townsfolk are selling, transmogrifies into—you guessed it—Santa Claus. How cool is that?

The energetic cast performs the story with not a degree of subtlety, and sings Van Slyke's modified lyrics with gusto (and skill). The music is absolutely necessary for the production's momentum, and musical director Linda Ackermann demonstrates a keen awareness that it is her duty not only to accompany the songs, but also to drive the action. Ackermann on piano, Blake Matthies on bass and Adam Ackermann on drums are terrific.

Orley gives Scrooge an unusual reading, seeming a bit daft at times. But he delivers his "humbugs" credibly enough and elicits boos from the audience, so it must work.

Company member and choreographer Sarah Vanek gets to shine in this show. As Miss Snivling, Scrooge's secretary at the savings and loan, she had designs on Scrooge a few years back. But she has now caught the eye of Mayor Fezziwig. Actually, with her cat's-eye glasses and a hairpiece that reaches skyward and holds the possibility of containing all kinds of items and creatures, she would catch anyone's eye.

Your ticket includes a variety show that launches after the main show, and the entertainment this time is The Andy Williams Show, which features holiday songs delivered by a cast impersonating various musical personalities who were popular in the late '60s.

Thank you, Gaslight! You get the holidays right.

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