You know you’re in for a bumpy ride of the best kind when the Ghost of Christmas Present tells Ebenezer Scrooge: “I’m taking you to a place you’ve never been before. And I don’t mean a good hairdresser.” (And yes, old Scrooge could use one, but that’s another story).
This “Christmas Carol” is actually “Scrooge in Rouge,” told in English music hall style – bawdy and boisterous, with bits of song, dance and comedy. In Tandem Theatre’s entertaining production presents a hilarious, gender-bending send-up that would have made Dickens laugh like, well, the Dickens.
“Scrooge in Rouge” is the creation of three actors from New Orleans – Ricky Graham, Jeffrey Roberson and Yvette Hargis (aka Varla Jean Merman). Jefferson Turner composed the original music. With a terrific ensemble cast, this “Scrooge” is the perfect antidote to traditional holiday fare.
Director Jane Flieller captures the fast-moving, vaudevillian atmosphere of the English Music Hall tradition, keeping the pace loose and free amid rapid-fire comic timing. Flieller is the fifth element to the quartet of actors who play multiple roles in quick-change fashion (think along the lines of Charles Busch’s “The Mystery of Irma Vep”).
Chris Flieller embodies the Cockney-accented MCCharlie, making all the double entendres and clichéd jokes funny with his natural style of delivery. As the actress Vesta, Marcella Kearns turns in a fine performance as old Ebenezer, all wide-eyed at the odd goings on and full of funny asides.
The bright shining star in this “Scrooge in Rouge” belongs to Matt Daniels, who plays the actress Lottie, who plays a variety of characters. Daniels excels once again on stage and dressing up as a woman only continues to show the depth and breadth of his skills (he was seen earlier this year playing against cross-dressing type in the title roles in “Jeeves Intervenes” and “Around the World in 80 Days” at Milwaukee Chamber Theatre). Daniels’ Lottie is literally pitch-perfect in tone and movement, his tall, masculine frame acts as a hilarious counterpart to his frazzled wig of blond curls, large ill-fitting frock and big black boots. Daniels grabs at every chance to fill the role and succeeds at every, well, big step in those big boots.
As the foppish, elegantly dressed Ghost of Christmas Present, played by Lottie, played by Daniels, he’s completely in his element. Showing off his draping lace cuffs to a bewildered Scrooge, he quips, “Straight from Paris? Hardly.”
Sounds typical but Daniels gets the laugh each and every time.
And that’s what makes “Scrooge in Rouge” worth the trip. “Bah! Humbug!” never sounded so funny.