Friday, December 24, 2010

Harlequin Productions' swing-era 'Stardust Christmas' saturated with silliness

The News Tribune / The Olympian, Dec. 24, 2010
Pictured (top) Bruce Whitney as Scrooge with Erica Penn, Anjelica Wolf and Rian Wilson background; (bottom) Matthew Posner with Erica Penn, Rian Wilson, Debbie Evens and Tracey Lewis background.

The swinging holiday musical romp “A Stardust Christmas Carol” is not the greatest thing Harlequin has ever done (the “Stardust” series is nowhere near as remarkably raucous and rocking as their similar summer music reviews), but for random silliness and great swing-era music it might be hard to beat.

This is the 16th edition in the series, nearly all of which are set in the Stardust Club in Manhattan on Christmas Eve during or right after World War II. The conceit that drives them all is that the employees of the club present a radio broadcast for Christmas, usually with some famous crooner as a guest star and often with the amateurs taking over.

In this version, it is 1945. The boys have just come home from the war – “the boys” represented in this case by Calvin Brody, a sailor, played by Rian Wilson. W.O.R. Radio station manager Irene Hunter (Deborah Evans) shows up with radio personality Chuck Odell (Matthew Posner) to broadcast Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with celebrity guest Basil Rathbone, who doesn’t show up because their schedule was off by a week. They decide to go ahead with the broadcast with the Russian band leader Nikolai Feodorov (Bruce Whitney) playing the part of Scrooge.

The script is credited to Harlowe Reed, a writer who is either as mysterious as J.D. Salinger or a pseudonym for the collective work of Harlequin cast and crew. The mood, the jokes and the plot devices all come across as prime examples of professional-level actors – quite purposefully and with tongues firmly planted in cheeks – sinking to the level of a high school drama club improvising a comic take on the classic Christmas tale. If that analogy doesn’t work for you, imagine the cast of “Glee” deciding to do a Christmas story and act it out as poorly as possible. Note: it takes good actors to play bad actors well.

This cast could rival the one just alluded to for musical talent. Tracey Lewis as Danny Scofield is a talented dancer and choreographer. He does a couple of beautifully smooth and rhythmical dances with Ruby Conrad (Erica Penn). He’s a good singer, too, although I longed for the more traditional high tenor when he sang “Danny Boy.” Penn also stands out on the beautiful “The Very Thought of You” with bluesy solos from saxophonist Dan Blunck. Wilson and Hunter, along with Anjelica Wolf and Megan Tyrrell, fill in the chorus and shine on their few solos. I especially wished that Tyrrell and Hunter could have had more solos.

The Posners – Matthew and Alison Monda Posner – steal the show. These two are expressive, energetic and in great voice. Matthew captures the somewhat slick and sleazy personality of an egotistical radio personality. He shows great comic acting chops when he appears in the guise of the ghost of Jacob Marley, and his singing is great from crooning “Serenade in Blue” to rocking the house on “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.” Alison brings the house down with her exaggerated Texas drawl (I could barely understand her, and I grew up in the deep South) and her enthusiastic bounciness.

The surprise hit was Whitney stepping out of his role as band leader to play the part of Scrooge. He has similarly stepped into other roles in previous shows, but never into quite such a large part. Another band member, Blunck, also stepped out of character to play small parts in the play-within-a-play. He made for a quite enjoyable Tiny Tim.

As usual, the band was great, and people of all ages should enjoy all the old familiar tunes. Patrons who enjoyed this show four years ago might want to see it again. The story line is the same but the cast is new and some of the songs are new.

There are only four more performances of Harlequin Productions’ “A Stardust Christmas Carol,” so if you’re looking for lighthearted seasonal entertainment, call for tickets right away. There will be a special New Year’s Eve show to ring in the New Year on New York time – starting at 7 p.m. our time.

WHEN: 2 p.m. today and Sunday, 8 p.m. Dec. 30 and Jan. 1, 7 p.m. Dec. 31
WHERE: State Theater, 202 E. 4th Ave., Olympia
TICKETS: prices vary, call for details
INFORMATION: 360-786-0151; www.

No comments: