In the history of Charles Dickens’ legendary tale of redemption, A Christmas Carol, there has been no shortage of stage adaptations.
Perhaps none of them will be as unique as In Tandem Theatre’s take. A Twisted Carol, a musical spoof written by Mondy Carter with music by Nathan Wesselowski, will debut at the company’s Tenth Street Theater this month.
The show will tell the same basic story as A Christmas Carol: miserly money-lender Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three Christmas Ghosts in one night, who convince him to change his ways. In the Dickens tale, Scrooge follows the spirits with little resistance, but Wesselowski said in a recent phone interview that In Tandem’s telling is a little different — with this Scrooge an opportunist who tries to “wheel and deal with the spirits” to ensure the best afterlife for himself.
The result, he says, is a rollicking farce that will leave audiences in stitches. “I compare this show to Monty Python’s Holy Grail or Life of Brian,” says Wesselowski. “Everything is, on the surface, normal but it is really anything but. Even from the first scene which is set on this beautiful winter day, it takes only a moment for the audiences to realize that something is not right there, something is a little twisted.”
In addition to composing the music for this production, Wesselowski will be one of seven local actors playing a variety of different characters; his include the important role of Bob Cratchit. “It actually adds to the humor, all of the roles that the actors are playing,” Wesselowski says.
Wesselowski’s contribution to the show is a brand-new addition for this production. Carter has presented A Twisted Carol as a comedy skit for years, but this year marks its expansion into a two-act musical.
There have been more than a few revisions along the way, which Wesselowski says is typical for a newly created or revised show. For example, he says, the Act I finale music had to be rewritten after he submitted the original draft, because Carter had changed the lyrics.
Wesselowski says his score utilizes a number of different musical styles, from works of the Great American Songbook to French and German art songs. “The songs in this show are really show pieces. They heighten the action that is already taking place,” says Wesselowski. “I really explored a variety of styles for composing this work. I wasn’t tied to the Victorian era for the music, which was really central in this composition.”
The most important part of composing a song, to him, is finding the melody — something tuneful that will stick with audiences. “That is what I compose first before I add accompaniment or harmonies,” says Wesselowski. “People will leave the theater humming the melodies from the show.”
Wesselowski has been soliciting feedback from his fellow actors and crew members throughout the rehearsal process, but audience members will have a chance to do the same during talkbacks scheduled throughout the show — your opportunity to add your own twists to this Dickens-ish tale.
A Twisted Carol runs Dec. 4-Jan. 3 at Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St., Milwaukee. Tickets are $30, $25 for students, seniors and military. Visit intandemtheatre.org or call 414-271-1371.