By Pat Launer
At holiday time, it’s a Jungle out there
As Christmas Carols waft through the air.
Givin’ ‘em The Dickens
THE SHOW: A Christmas Carol , a traditional Victorian version, adapted by Jacqueline Goldfinger as a 90-minute, musically infused ensemble piece, directed by Joe Powers
THE STORY/THE PLAYERS/THE PRODUCTION: You know the story well: Greed, ghosts, insensitivity and misanthropy, followed by redemption, rebirth, joy, munificence and new beginnings. The latter are available to all of us, every year, all year. But especially at Christmas, and especially when Scrooge reminds us how to take care of our fellow citizens (a nice thing to remember this pre-election year!).
Goldfinger’s text hews close to the original, employing only Dickens’ words. It’s less a star-turn than an ensemble piece, with the carolers wending their way throughout the story, commenting as well as participating (donning different hats, wigs, moustaches, to create new characters). It’s a formidable cast, and everyone does a fine job. The singing is pleasant if not stellar; one might hope for more inventive vocal arrangements and more harmony. Rachael Van Wormer and Susan Denaker are especially strong, both in their singing and their characterizations. Don Pugh also cuts an imposing figure, especially as the Ghosts of Christmas Present and Future. As Ebenezer Scrooge, Ron Choularton is obviously having the time of his life. He’s played Cratchit multiple times at the San Diego Rep (“Bob! He called me Bob!”) and even did a one-man riff on “A Christmas Carol” (Jacob Marley’s Christmas) at North Coast Rep in 2002. But this is his first crack at the old buzzard, and he does him proud. He plays crusty and crotchety extremely well at the outset, and gleefully gets into the joy of salvation at the end. But alas, he never made me weep, and I always look forward to that moment of self-evaluating realization and release that is the most enjoyable part of the story, when we get those collective feelings of guilt and generosity, compassion and second chances. Joe Powers has directed with flair, but imaginative ideas sometimes become repetitive, dissipating the potency of the concept with each iteration (the whispered ‘Tick Tock’ of the ensemble, the carolers striding across the stage in the midst of the action, at times interrupting it). The set (Marty Burnett), costumes (Jan Mah), sound (Chris Luessmann) and lighting (Karin Filijan) are simple but serviceable. If you’re hankering for a good old-fashioned Christmas Carol, this is the one to see.
THE LOCATION: North Coast Repertory Theatre, through
BOTTOM LINE : BEST BET
It’s a Jungle Out There
Caught one of the last J* Company performances of Disney’s A Jungle Book, a continuation of the group’s all-Disney season. The kids were working and trying really hard, and there were sooo many of them. But the show is a bit of a hodge-podge, with the original Kipling story intermingled with the Rudyard Kipling backstory (book by Marcy Heisler) – how he was teased by his peers at his English boarding school (he was born in India), and how those tribulations helped inform his stories. The conceit only works intermittently, and the repetitive score (Richard M. Sherman, Robert B. Sherman and Terry Gilkyson), the same song coursing through the action, with frequently-changing lyrics, makes the show itself a slow go. The natives were getting restless in the audience, too. You’ve gotta applaud the chutzpah and energy of putting on such huge productions. Kudos to artistic director Joey Landwehr. And to his little leading man, 11 year-old Joshua Shtein, who did double duty as Mowgli, the boy-raised-by-wolves, and Kipling (looking owlishly Harry Potter-ish). He has a delightful stage presence and a strong voice. Adam Burnier made a strong appearance as Akela, the leader of the wolf pack, and Elliott Rappaport, as Baloo the Bear, proved excellent at comic moves and antics. The animal costumes (designed by Shulamit Nelson) were highly imaginative, but the masks tended to obliterate either nose or mouth on many of the performers, and that rendered the lyrics hypernasal or unintelligible. Pity, because most of the story is told through the songs. Still, it’s always fun to see a schoolyard-full of kids onstage and loads of young ‘uns in the audience. As Craig Noel, the Father of San Diego Theater (and recent winner of the National Medal of Arts) always says (more or less): ‘Theater is a habit. Give me a child till he’s 8 years old, and I’ll give you a theatergoer for life.’ So remember that: theater is habit-forming. Use as directed.
NEWS AND VIEWS ….
… Don’t miss the biggest buzz around, the event that’s gonna be one helluva party! Buy your Gallery tickets NOW (just $25!) for the 11th Annual Patté Awards for Theater Excellence. Monday, January 14 in the David & Dorothea Garfield Theatre at the Lawrence Family JCC in La Jolla. And then, watch the broadcast on Channel 4 San Diego (Cox and Time Warner) on Saturday, February 2 at 7pm. Tickets are available at http://tickets.lfjcc.org or the JCC box office: 858-362-1348.
… And don’t forget to buy an AD in the Patté event program! Celebrate your favorite theater or theatermaker, or just send good wishes out there into the theater community. Go to http://patteproductions.com/Patte_Ads.htm
… Media News… If you live in the Del Mar/Carmel Valley area, check out the feature in the Del Mar Times (12/21) — about the upcoming Patté Awards. And I’ll be making another theater-related visit to KUSI-TV’s Saturday show, “Good Morning, San Diego,” on December 29.
…In other media news, of course, there’s what’s going on at the Union-Tribune. The details of the buyout offer have been laid out by Don Bauder in the San Diego Reader, who knows the situation from the inside, having worked at the U-T for 30 years. It’s not a pretty picture. ( http://www2.sdreader.com/weblogs/financial-crime-politics/2007/dec/04/u-ts-bungled-buyout-will-probably-lead-to-best-peo/ ). Anne Marie Welsh’s departure leaves one more media venue with considerably less arts coverage. And that’s a shame, when theater is such a high-profile artform in this community. Maybe a new, more arts-friendly regime at the very top will trickle down throughout the country. We can only hope. Meanwhile, all good wishes to Anne Marie in writing her next chapter!
… Grinchier than ever…. Due to popular demand, the Old Globe has added an extra performance of Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas — Saturday, December 29 at 11:00am. ( The 2pm performance that day will be moved to 2:30). Tix at (619) 23-GLOBE , on the Globe website at www.TheOldGlobe.org ,
… Right out loud… that’s how short stories are read by Write Out Loud, the new venture begun this year by Walter Ritter and Veronica Murphy. They just completed another successful event, focused on holiday tales. “Barrington Bunny” and “The Night Before Christmas” were so successful that the founders have decided to focus specifically on literature for young audiences in the new year. They’ve also clicked with the human rights community: they recently did a reading of Lemkin’s House at the Institute for Peace and Justice, provided narration for Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait” and recited Elie Wiesel’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech at Pt. Loma Nazarene University, for a commemoration of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This new venture is spreading its wings all over town… watch for it in 2008. Next up is “Don’t Fence Me In,” an exploration of freedom’s many faces (Feb. 16).
… …Here’s another new perspective for the New Year… New Perspective is coming, a brand new Festival for San Diego theater artists – a showcase for local actors, directors and playwrights presented under the non-profit umbrella of New Works/Vantage Theater. This venture was conceived after the Actors Alliance of San Diego announced that there would be no Actors Festival in 2008; the plan is for that Festival to resume in the spring of 2009. In the meantime, there’s a New Perspective in town; the deadline for script submissions is January 1. Production dates are June 19-22; auditions will be held in April. For further info, contact Sally Stockton, firstname.lastname@example.org.
… Queer Theatre… 6th @ Penn Theatre is calling for scripts for Gay Plays (QPlays) to be considered for full production in the 2008-2009 season. Details at http://mystage.info/submit
… Busy season at Broadway San Diego: Disney’s High School Musical (Dec. 26-30) and Ted Neeley’s reprise of his star-turn role in Jesus Christ Superstar (Jan. 2-6)
… Since this is the last 2007 sdtheatrescene newsletter of 2007, here’s a little preview of what’s coming to our stages in January: Todd Salovey’s workshop production of the heartrending true story, Blessings of a Broken Heart at the San Diego Rep (Jan. 4-20); the high-octane This is Our Youth at New Village Arts (1/9-2/17); the Old Globe’s boxing-ring drama, In This Corner (1/5-2/10); and the comedy String of Pearls at North Coast Rep (1/12-2/10), which brings back former Glober Karen Carpenter. There’s always so much happening on San Diego stages. Make MORE THEATER part of your New Year’s resolutions!
‘NOT TO BE MISSED!’ (Pat’s Picks)
A Christmas Carol – nice ensemble piece, with lots of singing. Ron Choularton is a delight as Scrooge
North Coast Repertory Theatre, through December XX
It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play – tighter, slicker and even more fun than last year! Beautiful singing, heartfelt production
Cygnet Theatre, through December 30
Lamb’s Festival of Christmas: Christmas on My Mind – one of the best of the 13 scripts in 29 years of Festivals. Terrific singing and some wonderful new Christmas carols, penned by the performers
Lamb’s Players Theatre, through December 29
How the Grinch Stole Christmas – 10th anniversary production, with a gregarious Green Meanie! Sheer delight for the tykes.
At the Old Globe Theatre, through December 30
Off the Ground – world premiere comedy by local playwrights about potentially horrific holidays with a decidedly dysfunctional family (is there any other kind?)
New Village Arts in Carlsbad, through December 23
(For full text of all of Pat’s past reviews, going back to 1990, use the Search engine at www.patteproductions.com)
Last few shopping days… don’t forget that theater tix make a Great Gift! A Very Merry to All, and a Happy Theater Year!
Back atcha in ’08!
© 2007 PATTÉ PRODUCTIONS, INC.
For more than 20 years, Pat Launer has been the only regular broadcast theater critic in San Diego. An Emmy Award-winner with a Ph.D. in Communication Arts & Sciences, Pat sees and reviews more than 200 local theater productions every year. For the past decade, she has hosted and produced The Patté Awards for Theatre Excellence, a gala community event that honors local theatermakers (“San Diegans making theater for San Diego”) and celebrates the broad diversity of San Diego theater.