A Christmas Carol 2020 – Theatre in the Park – December 2020

Okay, first off, there is no way you will ever be able to convince me that Christopher Guest or Eugene Levy didn’t see the Theatre in the Park’s version of A Christmas Carol at some point before they wrote Waiting for Guffman. The cast is much larger than that of Red, White and Blaine, boasting almost a hundred actors joyfully bounding across the stage almost non-stop but one listen to the narrator of A Christmas Carol (a lamplighter) and you know it has to be the inspiration for Lewis Arquette’s role in Guffman.

So where does that leave me? As soon as the show began I thought “This will be cute. Like a local theater group production.” I love local theater. I’m all for supporting them. Which is why I didn’t mind paying to see this version. Even when, before the stream began, Ira David Wood III and Ira David Wood IV were on my tv warning me that this was recorded in 2019 and was not intended to be shown. So the recording wasn’t going to be a highly professional grade. Fine. I threw some money at a theater not making money right now to watch a show I love. It’s okay if it’s a little blurry (and it was).

I haven’t done any research on any of the shows I’m going to watch this season. Which means every one of them will be a bit of a surprise. Some good (see Jefferson Mays) and some…well…not so good. See: all of this.

Okay, it isn’t that the show isn’t good…the songs are cute enough and the acting is more than passable…but it’s the way the show is presented that, for me, make it almost unbearable.

(Here is where I should note I’m almost certainly in the minority. This show has been running over 45 years. It’s often sold out. People LOVE this show.)

I don’t know where the line is drawn between working hard (again, Mays) and trying too hard (again…all of this) but here we are.

The bare bones of the show is the story of A Christmas Carol but what overpowers the Dickens story is the forced humor and the additions to make it timely. We’re still set in 1843 but there are jokes about Dancing with the Stars and Baby Yoda.  Scrooge’s entrance to the show comes at the end of the openng song when he tells everyone to literally ‘drop dead.’  That is followed by a barrage of really corny jokes presented by Scrooge, which includes someone exclaiming “Surely you can’t be serious!” with Scrooge responding, “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.” (I didn’t say all the jokes were timely.) Scrooge’s mini stand-up act is followed inexplicably by a medley of songs (for no real reason) that have nothing to do with Christmas: Do Wah Diddy Diddy. Day-O. and Mahna Mahna.  What the hell, man?

Don’t get me wrong. I know there is a place for a funny Christmas Carol. Scrooged did it by bringing the story into the present time and keeping in the Victorian era, A Muppet Christmas Carol probably did it best of all. But this is neither of those. Both of those movies found a way to be genuinely funny while also having a lot of heart and depth. Sure we laughed but the filmmakers knew when to reel it in and let us absorb the meaning of the story. We got some humor but ultimately it was the depiction and explanation of Scrooge’s pain (or in the case of Scrooged, Frank Cross’s pain) and how he finally rids himself of it that makes the story worth watching. If I’m not feeling the heartache of his regret I’m not believing in his transformation. And if I’m not believing in his transformation, you have lost me entirely.

A non Scrooge-related note: after 90 minutes of big production numbers and hammy jokes, the pronouncement that “Tiny Tim did NOT die” doesn’t really hit the way it should. That line should evoke such joy and here it was presented almost as an afterthought.

At the end of this show, the song The First Noel is sung by the urchins (or maybe just the local kids. I don’t know. They all look like urchins to me). They ask Scrooge to join them and although he initially declines, seemingly thinking he doesn’t deserve to, he eventually does join them, breaking down crying before even getting a full line of the song out. A scene like that was written for me. I eat that stuff up. Usually I’m sobbing at the end of this story. And this time? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Because for me, you can’t have your Scrooge snarking around for two hours acting like he’s just a sarcastic, funny crank instead of a truly lousy guy and then in one moment make him instantly sincere. It really just did not work for me.

But like I said, this show has been around almost as long as I have and people seem to love it. So what do I know?

The curtain was nice

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