It starts out familiar enough.
“Marley was dead to begin with,” Chris Korte drolly reminds us in the opening moments of Williamston Theatre’s second show of its first full season. But that’s pretty much all of the traditional BHC – beloved holiday classic – Korte gets to spout – despite several attempts throughout the first act – since what Artistic Director Tony Caselli is serving is certainly NOT “A Christmas Carol.”
Rather, what seemingly starts out as a very scaled-down version of the Dickens’ classic quickly morphs into “Every Christmas Story Ever Told,” thanks to a revolt by actors Joseph Albright and Aral Gribble who have no desire to appear in yet another production of the timeless – tiresome? – classic. “Everybody’s seen it; everybody’s done it,” exclaims Albright.
And he’s right – including Meadow Brook Theatre, this show’s co-producer.
So instead, the three agree to explore what Christmas means to contemporary audiences – and they do so through a very funny conglomeration of seasonal tales that replaces sugary, sappy sentimentality with laughter – a commodity that’s much needed this holiday season.
The fast-paced, 90-minute comedy, created by Michael Carleton, Jim FitzGerald and John Alvarez for the Cape May Stage in New Jersey, spoofs pretty much every beloved holiday tradition, from old film chestnuts and the Norelco television commercials of the 1960s to fruitcake and the Grinch.
Even the tightly controlled “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” gets a ribbing in the guise of Gustav the Green-Nosed Rein-Goat. (Copyright concerns, you know.)
Much of the lunacy is inspired. The Gustav segment – with Albright prancing around with a glowing green proboscis – is especially fun, as is Albright and Korte playing the married couple from “The Gift of the Magi.”
Even some of the brief moments get laughs, particularly the famous dance we’ve all come to love from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” (You know the one…)
A few underdeveloped segments mid-to-late in the first act don’t serve the production well, however. The two broadcasters commenting on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, for example, is laugh-starved, and the Queer Eye for the Santa Guy is abandoned as quickly as it arrives – and deservedly so.
All that is forgiven, though, with the arrival of the show’s excellent second act. What starts out with three actors in tutu’s doing their version of “The Nutcracker” – an image still seared into my brain – gives way to an imaginative melding of “A Christmas Carol” with “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
What makes this scene work – and indeed the entire show – is the skill, joy and enthusiasm with which the actors bring to life their menagerie of characters. (Korte is especially adept at switching between Scrooge and George Bailey, two of entertainment’s most antithetical characters.) Plus, their camaraderie is infectious; they’re having fun, so we do, too!
Direction by Caselli is top-notch, as are lights and set by Daniel C. Walker. And Katherine Strand-Evans deserves a special gift under her Christmas tree this year for completing one of the most unusual costume jobs of the season!
‘Every Christmas Story Ever Told’
Williamston Theatre, 122 S. Putnam St., Williamston. Thu.-Sun., through Dec. 3. Tickets: $18-$22. For information: 517-655-7469 or http://www.williamstontheatre.org
Meadow Brook Theatre, Rochester. Mon.-Wed., Dec. 11-20. Tickets: $30. For information: 248-377-3300 or http://www.mbtheatre.com