‘Carol’ helps kick-start holiday season

 

By David Hoffman

Tuesday November 23, 2010

 

The yuletide season can't begin too early anymore -- that is, if it begins not with shopping on Black Friday but instead with "A Broadway Christmas Carol," a true triumph now at MetroStage in Old Town Alexandria. The tongue-in-cheek song salute to the classic Charles Dickens tale of redemption runs through Dec. 19.

 

There's very little "bah humbug" as this high-wattage, all-star cast tackles a timeless tale and gives it new life in the perfect medium for a musical message of ultimate uplift. Three talented area performers bring their Broadway-big voices and broad comedic talent to the completely audience-friendly intimacy of MetroStage and pull it off with infectious hilarity and brio.

 

There's the solemn Peter Boyer, who plays skinflint Scrooge himself, as hard of heart but with a yearning to be good; Donna Migliaccio, on Broadway last year as Emma Goldman in "Ragtime," who is a true hoot as Scrooge's ghostly partner, Jacob Marley, and doubles as a delightfully come-hither Ghost of Christmas Present; and rubber-faced Matt Anderson, clowning in roles from long-suffering Bob Cratchitt to a jumbo-sized Tiny Tim like you've never seen him before.

 

"A legendary Washington tradition returns," boasts MetroStage founder and artistic director Carolyn Griffin, and rightly so. After seven years of sold-out success at the Round House Theatre in Silver Spring ended in 2004, this show awaited its long-overdue rebirth. And its longtime loyal audience will doubtless return, reinforced with a new wave of people ready for a zingy, singy blend of a holiday classic juiced up with deft parodies of more than 40 Broadway show tunes.

 

Yes, it's the basic story of Scrooge and the three ghosts, but enlivened and certainly updated, even with the occasional risque riposte. And the songs come tumbling out. Area cabaret performer Aaron Broderick, making his MetroStage debut as music director, is on stage throughout as the pianist --even taking on the role of the sinister and silent Ghost of Christmas Future, masked at the keyboard in a nod to "Phantom of the Opera."

 

In fact, the show is peppered with new takes on Broadway classics, with lyrics repurposed with a twist for the season -- from shows like the 1980 hit show "42nd Street," where "We're In the Money" becomes Scrooge warbling "I'm in the Money," to Tiny Tim's plaintive pledge "(I'm Going to Walk) Tomorrow" from "Annie" (first on the Great White Way in 1977), to the lugubrious lament of "The Tale of Ebenezer Scrooge," based on the opening song from Stephen Sondheim's 1979 musical thriller "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street."

 

And it's surely no surprise that the Rogers and Hammerstein 1943 classic "Oklahoma" becomes sung as a crowd-pleasing "Ebenezer" -- with its eight letters just crying out for a rousing parody boisterously belted out at the finale, which comes all too soon, and again in curtain call. All this in a show that's a whirligig of costume and character changes for the cast of three -- with Donna Migliaccio herself pulling off a lightning round of 23 changes, with a range of wigs and outfits that must keep someone backstage limber on their fingers and toes.

 

In fact all those folks backstage match the talents of those before the footlights. Director Larry Kaye, whose day job is as a trial attorney, is also a writer and lyricist and clearly knows his moonlighting stuff. Choreographer Nancy Harry also returns to the scene of this same success, again designing these dance moves with perfection. The rich and gaudy early Victorian costumes are the work of Janine Gulisano, a Helen Hayes Award nominee usually found on stage as an actress. And set designer Allison Campbell, chairwoman of the theater department at Goucher College in Baltimore, has created a superb, colorful wrapper for the show, all bedecked in plaid and ribbons and bows.

 

Kudos also to the author of the book and the clever lyrics -- Silver Spring resident Kathy Feininger, in demand herself as a director in the D.C. area but also, for a decade, director of education and outreach at Round House Theatre, where she midwifed this musical and now is delighted to see it return, this time in Northern Virginia, where it is almost certain to become an annual staple for future holidays.

 

As your own Thanksgiving festivity continues through this long weekend, and then the time of jingle bells is officially here, take a well-deserved break from a whirlwind of eating and shopping. The constant laughter at MetroStage is just the tonic you surely will need.

 

 

 



 

Deck the halls with show tunes

 

By Jordan Wright

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

 

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me: 31 well-known Broadway show tunes, 23 wig changes, 20 separate costume changes and 4 sprightly cast members in a theatre with no bad seats, all in one 90-minute show.

   

In “A Broadway Christmas Carol”, lyricist Kathy Feininger’s version of “A Christmas Carol,” spirits, ghosts, an orphan and a class ‘A’ tightwad go classical burlesque to the max. The production, which played to sold-out audiences at Round House Theatre in Silver Spring for seven consecutive years, has at last returned to our area after a six-year absence. 

   

From the get-go you’re onto the spoof when “The Woman Who Isn’t Scrooge” (as she’s referred to in the program) played by Donna Migliaccio, belts out, “deck the halls with lots of show tunes” to the familiar strains of  A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” 

   

The very versatile Migliaccio does a mean Ethel Merman impression and a slinky hip-grinding Mae West (or is it Sophie Tucker?) character.  In “Turn Back Old Man,” a take-off from “Godspell,” she urges Scrooge to “Repent and forswear his greedy ways.” 

   

It’s a Vaudevillian Christmas tale from Merry Olde England, mined gleefully from Charles Dickens. We know what’s going to happen but we don’t know how we’ll get there as the parodies come at you fast and furious in this topsy-turvy version with all the holiday trimmings.

   

Peter Boyer gives us Ebenezer Scrooge as a man in full played with delicious aplomb when he intros with “I’m In the Money” cadged from Broadway’s “42nd Street.” His natty Scrooge is a petty tyrant who enjoys wielding his power over the local peasantry, in particular his employee, the kindly and impoverished, Bob Cratchit (referred to in the program as “The Man Who Isn’t Scrooge”). 

 

Cratchit’s character, along with a host of other incarnations, is played handily here by Matthew Anderson.  Watch for Anderson’s offbeat Tiny Tim and Migliacci’s vamping to shatter your funny bone.

   

The Cratchits know “It’s a Hard Knock Life” (yes, Annie, you’re not the only downtrodden Brit). And in a campy ensemble version of “Phantom of the Opera” called “The Phantom of the Future” Scrooge comes to his senses. Throughout the antics Anderson and Migliaccio shape-shift into umpteen roles with plenty of old-fashioned hoofing, including two-steps, tangos and even the Charleston thrown in for good measure.

   

With so many numbers, characters, and countless surprise entrances and exits, the timing had better be tight and it is, thanks to the clever choreography of Nancy Harry and the myriad costume changes engineered by Costume Designer Janine Gulisano. A tip-top cast with slick direction from Larry Kaye and reams of comic ditties-with-a-twist add up to a holly jolly Christmas musical.

 

 

 



 

A Broadway Christmas Carol

 

By Gary McMillan

November 23, 2010

 

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the old chestnuts of the holiday season without a doubt,  as evidenced by the scads of adaptations whether radio play, film, movie musical or animated feature. MetroStage has opted to make merry with Kathy Feininger’s show tune-driven riff on the classic tale.

Not an original musical like the versions penned by Bricusse/Fraser (Scrooge) or the Mencken/Ahrens (A Christmas Carol: The Musical that ran successfully for several years at Madison Square Garden [and is playing now at Toby's Dinner Theatre]), Feininger’s lyrics are set to well-known (mostly) Broadway melodies from over two dozen shows. If the story of everyone’s favorite  irascible, miserly curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge, is all too familiar, it’s the “Name That Tune” suspense of discovering which songs Feininger has  matched to each scene that holds the audience. Feininger’s lyrics aptly carry the story although not all her lines and word choices lie equally well on the metre – most notably and ear-jarring, a cringe-inducing pronoun juxtaposition in a song from Avenue Q. Which also raises the issue of song selection. Audiences will surely recognize songs from the “warhorse” musicals – Annie, Phantom, Gypsy, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, and Cats – but some might be left scratching their heads to place tunes from Avenue Q, Roar of the Greasepaint, Follies or Thoroughly Modern Millie.

 

Allison Campbell has designed a Victorian gift box set, tastefully ornamented in holiday colors with ribbons and bows and wreaths. Janine Gulisano clothes the players in somber period attire with attention to detail, when not accessorizing them with a walker (complete with green dayglo tennis ball feet), a gift box torso, or wacky candelabra and a mask more befitting a production of La Cage Aux Folles. Gulisano had quite a challenge costuming two of the characters, in particular, who are required to make split second changes in the course of each covering a dozen roles each. Larry Kaye directs the production like a steam locomotive barreling down the track, only occasionally giving the cast a ballad break during which to catch their breaths. Nancy Harry’s choreography ranges from a little soft shoe to a bit of a waltz and is most fun when it affectionately pokes fun at the original Broadway material. It’s difficult to lay down some serious dance when the characters are darting on and off set like bolts of lightening.

 

The show’s strong suit is its zany quartet of a cast who milk the laughs out of the material in a manner reminiscent of the parodies which were a staple of 1950s and ‘60s comedy and variety television shows. Peter Boyer follows in the footsteps of Alastair Sim, Cyril Richard, Orson Wells, the brothers Barrymore, Albert Finney, Oscar the Grouch, Yosemite Sam, Fred Flinstone, Donald Duck, and Bill Murray, among others, as Mr. Scrooge. Boyer is a decidedly mild-mannered skinflint. Even while extolling the virtues of workhouses and jails as solutions to the problem of poverty, and an early grave as a fine way to resolve the surplus population, he’s not likely to scare the horses or any children in the audience. He does, however, have a fine voice and an appealingly sly sense of humor which are well showcased by tunes from Phantom, Les Miz, and 42nd Street.

 

Donna Migliaccio and Matthew A. Anderson, both recently seen in MetroStage’s Musical of Musicals: The Musical!, each play a dizzying array of characters with great glee. It’s a wonder that Migliaccio can remember her new lyrics having delivered award-caliber performances in several of the shows from which the songs are taken — from Mama Rose (Gypsy) to Mrs. Lovett (Sweeney Todd). It’s delightful to hear her tear the parodies of “Turn Back Old Man (Godspell),” “Big Spender (Sweet Charity),” and the earthy duet with Anderson in “Master of the House (Les Misérables).” Migliaccio does some amazingly funny turns as the ghost of Jacob Marley and the Ghost of Christmas Present which I won’t spoil for you. Anderson covers the waterfront of male roles, from Scrooge’s nephew, the put-upon clerk, Bob Cratchit, the Spirit of Christmas Past (think Tim Conway on leave from the Old Ghosts’ Home) and so on. His jaw glides through a social class compendium of British accents from Upper Crust to Cockney, and here too it’s amazing he doesn’t trip over his own tongue. His wistful interpretation of Tiny Tim will bring tears to your eyes — not from sentiment, I can assure you.

 

Aaron Broderick is a one-man orchestra on the piano and also a pivotal player, conjuring up some macabre humor as the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

 

It’s fun to second-guess the author by proposing alternative songs to go with various scenes. For example, Feininger chose “Good Morning” (Singing in the Rain) for Scrooge’s awakening on Christmas morn, but how about “Open a New Window” (Mama) or “Before the Parade Passes By” (Hello, Dolly). Or a recognizable theme song for Scrooge: “If I Were a Rich Man” (Fiddler on the Roof). Still, it is strange that a show barely a decade old has such a nostalgic feel to it. Didn’t the cast of “The Carol Burnett Show” do this thirty some years ago? If they had, they couldn’t have done it better than this madcap troupe.

 

 

 



 

A Broadway Christmas Carol Returns To Metro Stage

 

By Carla Branch

November 22, 2010

 

Charles Dickens, Broadway, vaudeville and slapstick collide merrily in “A Broadway Christmas Carol”, an early gift from Alexandria’s Metro Stage.

 

The sets are simple but effective, and the four-member cast is versatile and talented. The familiar characters from Dickens’ novel sing, dance and quip their way through Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from miser to good-hearted philanthropist.

 

The songs are familiar with a twist.  The play opens with “A Broadway Christmas Carol Tonight” from “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” with Dickensian lyrics, and closes with “Ebenezer” sung to the tune of the theme song from “Oklahoma”. In between are offerings such as “The Phantom of Christmases Yet to Come” from “The Phantom of the Opera”, “It Sucks to be Thee” from “Avenue Q”, and “Miserly” sung to the tune of “Wouldn’t It be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady”.

 

Donna Migliaccio is “The Woman Who Isn’t Scrooge”. She is, however, Mrs. Cratchit, Marley, Christmas Present, Belle and others. Her voice is equally delectable as the vamp, Christmas Present, and the over-burdened Mrs. Cratchit. She is an award-winning actor in DC theater who went to Broadway last year to play Emma Goldman in “Ragtime”.  She won the Helen Hayes Award in 1992 and 2007 and can be seen at Ford’s Theater in their upcoming production of “Liberty Smith.”

 

Peter Boyer, a newcomer to Metro Stage, is convincing as Scrooge the miser, Scrooge the confused and Scrooge the redeemed. His musical range and comedic timing are superb. Boyer was last seen at the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival in “Comedy of Errors” playing Dromio of Syracuse and has just completed filming “A Modest Suggestion”, an independent film.

 

Matt Anderson, “The Man Who Is Not Scrooge” plays Tiny Tim, Cratchit and others. His portrayal of Tiny Tim was particularly hilarious. He most recently played Streffy in Metro Stage’s production of “Glimpses of the Moon”. He has also performed at the Kennedy Center and Theatre J.

 

There is no orchestra but the audience never notices because of Aaron Broderick, “The Man Behind The Piano”. Another Metro Stage newcomer, Broderick plays his way flawlessly and seemingly effortlessly through more than 40 different Broadway tunes. He has more than 150 orchestra credits in the Baltimore/Washington area and was nominated for a 2010 Helen Hayes Award for outstanding musical direction for his work on “Rent” at the Keegan Theatre.

 

“A Broadway Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 19, and is well worth the price of the ticket, which is $45-$50, $250 for students. The show is a can’t-miss way to ensure a merry holiday season.

 

 

 



 

Show Tunes Bent To a Different Tale

Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol" Put To Comic Effect

 

By Brad Hathaway

Wednesday, November 24, 2010   

 

The concept behind Kathy Feininger’s version of’ "A Christmas Carol" is simple — rewrite the lyrics for some of Broadway’s most famous songs to fit slots in Dickens’ tale and do it with a sense of whimsy and wit. The result, at least when performed by a cast of three spirited professionals with the chops to make the songs work, is an enjoyable if somewhat predictable short evening that is more fun the more you happen to know about show music. Half of the fun is to see just which show tunes Feininger picks for each song slot and then to spot the changes in the lyrics that make the moment work.

 

For example, "The Tale of Sweeney Todd" is a natural for what becomes "The Tale of Ebenezer Scrooge," "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum’s" "Comedy Tonight" is easily changed into "A Broadway Christmas Tonight" and "Carousel’s" "This Was A Real Nice Clambake" transitions for the Cratchit family feast into "This Was A Real Nice Pudding."

 

Feininger came up with this confection in 1998 when she was on staff at Bethesda’s Round House Theatre where it was performed over seven seasons. Since then, it has been produced around the country and even abroad with a 2005 version in Singapore. She has made changes over time. She even added one song that didn’t really have a perfect spot in the plot of Dickens’ story, but was so perfect a fit for the spirit of the piece that she had the cast explain off-handedly that they have "a new plot device" and pull out hand puppets to sing "Avenue Q’s" "It Sucks To Be Me" with a new title — "It Sucks To Be Thee."

 

MetroStage, which had such a hit with "Musical of Musicals: The Musical" in 2007 that they brought it back last year, programmed this production because it taps into the same vein of humor and show-tune mentality, but does so with a holiday theme. Larry Kaye directs again as he did with "Musical of Musicals" and he teams with others from that successful effort including choreographer Nancy Harry, set designer Allison Campbell and sound designer Steve Baena.

 

They brought in Donna Migliaccio, who had starred in that earlier hit both times it was staged here, and reunited her with Matthew A. Anderson, who had been in the 2009 version with her. They have a chemistry together that makes some of the comic bits work even better than the material might in less inspired hands. Add Peter Boyer in his MetroStage debut as Scrooge and you have a great trio to romp their way through the high-spirited script.

 

Most of the songs fit well without altering too much of the structure of the song. For example, "Good Morning" from "Singing in the Rain" fits the need for a song of gladness for Scrooge when he wakes after his night of spectral visits to discover that he still has the opportunity to reform. Here, the song becomes "It’s Morning (I’m Not Dead.)" As Ebenezer Scrooge, Boyer gives it all the delight he can muster, which happens to be a good deal. He also turns in a rather remarkable rendition of a lift from "The Phantom of the Opera" here titled "The Phantom of Christmases Yet to Come" with the help of musical director Aaron Broderick wearing a phantom’s mask and cloak at the piano.

 

Tiny Tim’s infirmity is introduced with a song lifted from "Annie" ... ‘"(I’m Going to Walk) Tomorrow." It is too bad Feininger didn’t include something from "Ragtime" (perhaps Santa could have made an unscheduled stop on "The Wheels of a Dream"?) since Migliaccio just completed a run on Broadway in the revival of that masterpiece.

 

Janine Gulisano provides who-knows-how-many costumes for the piece. Quick changes are part of the fun and each seems to be accompanied by a wig to match. Producing Artistic Director Carolyn Griffin said Migliaccio changes wigs 23 times in the 90 minutes of the show. Migliaccio, as the "Ghost of Christmas Present" and also as some of the characters that ghost is showing to Scrooge, has to change repeatedly into and out of a red gift wrapped package costume with a green fright wig.

 

 

 



 

MetroStage's spoof of 'A Christmas Carol'

is lighthearted holiday fare

 

By Barbara Mackay

November 23, 2010

 

In order to ease the theatre-going public into the holidays, MetroStage is celebrating with a light-hearted production, "A Broadway Christmas Carol." Created by Kathy Feininger, the show is a musical spoof of Charles Dickens' classic Christmas tale, but with a clever twist: the songs that narrate this "Christmas Carol" are parodies of original Broadway tunes.

 

The first song of the show, for instance, is from "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum": "Comedy Tonight" is transformed into "A Broadway Christmas Carol Tonight." Then "Hey Big Spender" from "Sweet Charity" becomes "Big Spender (Spend a Little Dime on the Poor.)" and "This Was a Real Nice Clambake" from "Carousel" becomes "This was a Real Nice Pudding."

 

"A Broadway Christmas Carol" retells the Dickens story with the help of only three actors and one pianist, all of them extremely talented performers. Peter Boyer plays Ebenezer Scrooge, the perfect embodiment of the stingy old crank at the beginning of the show. Boyer is a talented, agile dancer as well as a powerful singer and his crisp performance is essential to the success of "Christmas Carol."

 

Matthew A. Anderson plays The Man Who Isn't Scrooge and a variety of other characters, including The Ghost of Christmas Past, Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim. One of his most hilarious numbers is "Try to Remember" from "The Fantasticks." Anderson appears to Ebenezer Scrooge as the Ghost of Christmas Past, a wreath around his forehead, trying to get Scrooge to view the past in order to understand the present. Like Boyer, Anderson is an excellent dancer and is particularly delightful in all his comic roles.

 

The third actor of the group is Donna Migliaccio, whose abilities as singer, dancer and comedienne are unparalleled. Playing The Woman Who Isn't Scrooge, Migliaccio is superb -- as Mrs. Cratchit, Belle, and even Jacob Marley, among other roles. One of her funniest appearances is as a reincarnated Mae West, dressed in pink-satin and wearing a platinum wig. Another is as The Ghost of Christmas Present, where she sings "Touch Me" from "Cats" while dressed as a huge Christmas present.

 

"A Broadway Christmas Carol" could not exist without the presence of the music director and pianist, Aaron Broderick. Although he is there primarily to accompany the three singers, Broderick actively participates in the action at one point, where he wears a black satin hood and white half mask. He has a chance to sing while Anderson, holding a chandelier, and Migliaccio in a red mask belt out "The Phantom of Christmases Yet to Come."

 

As the show reproduces Sondheim's difficult harmonies and Rodger's and Hammerstein's lilting "Do-Re-Mi," as it tumbles from "Chicago" to "Gypsy" and "Singing in the Rain," Scrooge begins to alter and eventually admits he has changed. He sings "Miserly," based on "Wouldn't it be Loverly" from "My Fair Lady." And so Dickens' story ends.

 

Allison Campbell's colorful set uses two doors on either side of a stage within a stage, providing many places for actors to enter and leave. Janine Gulisano's costumes include seemingly inexhaustible changes of Victorian dress and wigs.

 

Director Larry Kaye and choreographer Nancy Harry keep the movement of "A Broadway Christmas Carol" percolating, ensuring that endless entrances and exits flow smoothly.

 

The show is extremely enjoyable whether you've seen the original Broadway productions or not. And there's an intriguing side benefit to "A Broadway Christmas Carol," if laughter isn't enough for you: you'll appreciate how marvelous the great Broadway music of the past and present is -- even when it's heard without the usual lyrics.

 

 

 



 

Fruitcake Carols

MetroStage mounts a zany, spirited spoof

 

By Doug Rule

December 2, 2010

 

''Deck the halls with lots of showtunes,'' Donna Migliaccio sings in the opening number of A Broadway Christmas Carol. And that, she does. By the end of the show, the halls are overstuffed with showtune snippets -- 40 or so in all. They're presented in a hurried, altered, name-that-tune kind-of-way, a gaudy effect that distracts from the story -- but then if you must deliberate on the finer points of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol, you really need to get out more often.

 

A Broadway Christmas Carol succeeds on account of its zany, spirited sense of staging, and its willingness to not only spoof but mock tradition, especially the moralizing sensibility to Dickens's tale. Migliaccio seems to be having great fun onstage -- so much so, the accomplished actress sometimes struggles to stay in character, such as while singing as an Avenue Q puppet. Joining her in the revelry is Matthew A. Anderson, in multiple roles, and Peter Boyer, who mostly plays it straight (he plays Ebenezer Scrooge, after all).

 

A Broadway Christmas Carol is touted as a companion to MetroStage's wonderful hit spoof of all-things-Broadway The Musical of Musicals (The Musical!). Though it has its moments -- the comparisons of Scrooge to Sweeney Todd and Tiny Tim to Annie, say -- it's not quite that clever. (There's no original music here, for one.) It's also not quite that quick -- at least I don't remember Musical dragging the way Carol does. The first act could use trimming.

 

But then Act Two comes and goes so quickly, you'll be singing a new tune by show's end. Specifically, to the tune of a certain Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, ''Eb-e-ne-zer. Yeeow!''