Clague Playhouse has a beautiful early Christmas gift for theater lovers. It’s
“A Broadway Christmas Carol.” The show’s concept is to take Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and write parodies of well-known musical show tunes for the music. The result is a gem of a show.
A tight-knit cast of four has Mark Seven as Scrooge, Justin Edenhofer and Elicia Bryant playing all of the other roles, and Jayne Kacik playing the keyboard. Much like “Forbidden Broadway,” which has been running for twenty-something years, “A Broadway Christmas Carol” has alternate lyrics for the well-known songs. Rather than a parody of the shows the songs come from, this show just tries to write appropriate lyrics. It’s brilliant – and brilliantly performed at Clague.
The show is created by Kathy Feininger. “Created” is the best word. She did not write the words; Charles Dickens did. Just about every word of dialogue is right from the text. She did not write the music. Broadway’s best composers did. Feininger did create a new form of entertainment with the original lyrics used in “A Broadway Christmas Carol.”
The show opens with the classic “Comedy Tonight” from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” It is a nice way to introduce the cast to the audience. A narrator introduces Scrooge, who sings a parody of “We’re in the Money,” the audience “gets” the format and the show is off a breakneck speed.
Director Mark Moritz doesn’t give anyone a chance to catch their breath. If you miss a joke concept, don’t worry; another is on the way in a second or two. If you “get it,” look for another layer of meaning. When the ghost of deceased Jacob Marley appears, he warns Scrooge by singing “Turn Back, O Man” from “Godspell.” Oh, yeah – the ghost of Marley is Lady Gaga. I laughed at the absurd Ghost of Christmas Past, who sang new lyrics to “Try to Remember” from “The Fantasticks.” Why the ghost was a Chasidic Jew with a walker, I don’t know, but it was darn funny.
When Scrooge looks in at Bob Cratchet’s house, he is referred to as “father of the feast.” Dickens’ words scan perfectly with “Master of the House” from “Les Miserables.” You get the idea.
There’s so much to like in this production because of the first-rate cast. I wish Moritz and this talented bunch spent more time on the West Side. Elicia Bryant belts out songs in the best Broadway tradition, including hits from “Annie” to “Phantom of the Opera.” Justin Edenhofer is a master of the rubber-faced comedy. Unlike Jim Carey, he is never annoying. Watch for his Tiny Tim. Seven manages to be an ingratiating Scrooge, while saying the most negative things.
They sing, they dance – kudos to Monica Olejko’s spot-on choreography – and they handle physical comedy equally well. It all comes together when Dickens’ orphans, Want and Ignorance, make a second appearance, this time as puppets from the foul-mouthed Muppets parody, “Avenue Q.” The song “Sucks to be Me” gets changed to “Sucks to be Thee”. Clague’s printed program thoughtfully lists the songs’ original names. As the 85-minute production rushes to a finale, creator Feininger has three showstoppers in a row, “Be Our Guest,” “Heart” and “Oklahoma” – Broadway classics all.
I’ve never had more fun at a Clague show than at “A Broadway Christmas Carol.” Even if your experience with musicals is limited, you’ll find a lot to like in this production. It is the only time I gave a show a standing ovation – while the rest of the audience sat. So much for the critics’ influence.