KPBS AIRDATE: December 16, 2005
If you love to see the magic of wildly imaginative theater unfold before your eyes – have I got two ingenious and eye-popping productions for you – to give yourself or your loved ones, as an unparalleled holiday present. One takes off from a seasonal perennial and the other from a Disney cartoon – but both are made new and frankly exhilarating.
The classic is “A Christmas Carol,” based on the 1843 Charles Dickens novella that some say started the whole Christmas season pandemonium. This is the 30th year of “Carols” at the San Diego Repertory Theatre. Over the years, co-founder D.W. Jacobs has tweaked and twisted the story into a saga of homeless people, circus performers, gospel singers and even, as written, the Victorian rich and poor. This year, it’s an all-American version, set in Chicago from the 1920s to 40s. And a beautiful sight it is to behold. With the wisdom of Christmas Present, the Rep brought in the ever-imaginative duo of director Kirsten Brandt and designer David Cuthbert, with Steve Gunderson contributing original music and arrangements. Scrooge and Marley’s is a speakeasy. Marley was gunned down for dealing in black-market booze; Scrooge is a pennypinching fatcat. Our narrator, played by Victor Morris, blows a mean blues horn. From ragtime to swing, bebop to boogie woogie, fan-dancers to the Andrews Sisters, “Over There” to Rosie the Riveter, this delightful version is a gorgeously realized portrait of early 20th century America. The chameleon cast of 17 plays multiple roles, morphing into revelers and unfortunates, jazz singers and pawnbrokers. And sometimes-scary Ghosts. Greg Mullavey’s Scrooge isn’t quite hateful or heartbreaking enough, but everything else is pitch-perfect. If you haven’t been inspired by this timeless story of greed, transformation and redemption, this is the time and the Rep is the place.
Now, if you want to see what genius and millions can create, you’ll hurry over to the Civic Theatre while “The Lion King” is in town. It may be the most astonishing visual spectacle you’re ever likely to see. Julie Taymor’s mask, puppet and costume designs are brilliant. The theater is agreeably reconfigured for the ‘Circle of Life’ opening, with its breathtaking parade of animals down the aisles. Every moment is magnificent. But it’s not just eye-candy, which was overwhelming and overstimulating in the New York premiere. In paring down the production for the road, the creators trimmed the excess and added heart. The attractive, multi-talented ensemble rhythmically conveys the story that isn’t just a lion cub becoming king. It’s really social Darwinism, the importance of assuming and maintaining one’s designated place on the food chain. And you thought it was just kids’ stuff.
There’s plenty to see, hear and think about in these two dazzling shows. Don’t miss ‘em!
©2005 Patté Productions Inc.