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A Christmas Carol: not even a Scrooge could resist - Drew Rowsome - MGT Stage -MyGayToronto

A Christmas Carol: not even a Scrooge could resist
by DREW ROWSOME
22 November 2017
by Drew Rowsome Photos by Racheal McCaig

Just after the extraordinary confection that is Plumbum leads a chorus of energetic dancing zombies in a rousing version of "Thriller," Scrooge stands over a grave and intones, "Charles Dickens. Poor man. He's rolling over and over. And over. And over. And over." Probably not. More likely he is laughing, tapping his feet, and shaking his head with delight at this mangled and marvellous version of his classic A Christmas Carol

After 22 years, most Christmas traditions wear thin - ornaments get chipped, baubles lose their lustre, and dust begins to accrue - but the Ross Petty annual pantomimes, from The Wizard of Oz to Snow White to The Little Mermaid to Cinderella to Peter Pan in Wonderland, just keep getting better. Like the holiday season itself, lights, glitter and nostalgia distract from any flaws or overtones, but A Christmas Carol takes a novel approach and layers a solid script (at least it seems to have been before the ad libs and kibitzing escalated) by Matt Murray with good old-fashioned song, dance and lots of comedy. Wrapped in witty projections by Cameron Davis (The Gay Heritage Project) - the giant duck sailing by is a delightful non sequitur that got a good laugh - the production gleams. Despite Plumbum's caustic quip that it's a shame there wasn't enough of a budget for the transition effects, A Christmas Carol looks, and more importantly feels, like a million bucks.

This is director Tracey Flye's 16th pantomime and her choreography has the exuberance and barely repressed horniness - it is billed as a family show - of a sweet 16. She obviously isn't bored with the form but is careful to dispense with the format's demands by the top of the second act: poor trouper (15 pantos and counting) Eddie Glen is stuck interacting with the cute children plucked from the audience, a pantomime staple that has only worked once in my viewings, when the inimitable Scott Thompson, in drag as Queen Elizabeth, pushed the concept of family entertainment right to the breaking point without traumatizing the brats too much.

Some of the jokes, particularly the topical ones that are just a heartbeat out-of-date, are groaners, but when the fourth wall is being disregarded and there are a dozen more wisecracks on the way, they get a laugh before speeding on. And the admittedly threadbare transitions are completely forgiven when the blatant commercials for the sponsors are slick, self-mocking and very, very funny. The self-mockery extends to the cast that affects a ramshackle "let's put on a show" spirit that doesn't even begin to disguise how talented they are. All of the leads are veterans of musical theatre but they are having so much fun, and casually working their prodigious talents, that it is hard to believe they are slumming.

Cyrus Lane has the villain role of Scrooge, and he revels in the boos and hisses before unleashing a powerful baritone that really should have been used more. He capers about with more double takes, bits of business, and audience asides than should be allowed. He is simultaneously horrifying and charming, just what a Scrooge needs to be. Good thing as he is up against AJ Bridel (Kinky BootsAssassins) who, as Glen comments is "so vivacious, so full of life. So triple-threaty." He's right. She is matched vocally by her love interest Kyle Golemba, who gets to take off his glasses and transform from the nerd/"dweeb" that he never really was into a hot and handsome leading man.

Golemba has testosteronic competition with a new love interest for Plumbum: David Lopez (Kinky BootsAssassins) who slinks and slides across the stage with red-hot panache. He even makes a rendition of "Despacito" sexy. No wonder Plumbum is besotted. And Plumbum in lust is a force of nature, as is Dan Chameroy who incarnates the lovably lascivious lady. She plays the three ghosts (pursued by the lithe and lissome Ghostdusters trio) and some sort of fairy godmother. It doesn't really matter, she is in fine form and Christmas is saved by a sparkling hilarious master class in the two noblest of the arts: clowning and drag. 

The ensemble, despite Plumbum's dig about Sheridan and Randolph training (there are a lot of theatre insider gags), is without exception top notch. Everyone sings and dances with controlled abandon and barely controlled glee and laughter. It can't help but be infectious. If the moral is a little too tidy and dubious, it just doesn't matter: there is no time to get restless or even think, there is a great big tacky tinsel heart beating and demanding attention. 

In another twist, Petty and Co have developed a social conscience and spout blather about wanting to expose children (who did comprise a large portion of the audience and seemed to have fun) to the joys of musical theatre in the hopes of getting them addicted in order to save the endangered art form. It will probably work. A Christmas Carol is slick without being soulless, zips along effervescently, and, like the questionable concept of "Christmas spirit," is impossible to resist. Audience members to whom Michael Jackson is ancient history might not be ready to savour Sondheim, Tom Kitt or Pasek and Paul, but they are already into Miranda and Anderson-Lopez, so there is hope. And when Plumbum shakes her enticing assets with a chorus line of zombies before seducing and dry humping a smoking hot ghost, there is a bright future for Christmas pantomimes and jaded audience members. And Charles Dickens.

A Christmas Carol runs until Sun, Dec 31 at The Elgin Theatre, 189 Yonge St. rosspetty.com

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