Scrooge in Rouge routs holiday blahs
Benjamin Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death, taxes and A Christmas Carol at the Rep.”
OK, I added that last one, but you get the point. If you’ve run out of insulin, there’s an alternative fix for that inevitable dose of holiday saccharine: In Tandem Theatre’s savory version Scrooge in Rouge: A British Musical Hall Christmas Carol.
The show, by Ricky Graham and Jefferson Turner, with additional material by Jeff Roberson (aka Varla Jean Merman) and Yvette Hargis, was a hit last December. So In Tandem has revived it this year, and the current run opened Friday (Dec. 3). (Chris Flieller, though, has assured me that Scrooge in Rouge won’t become yet another Milwaukee Yuletide tradition.)
In Rouge, it’s the turn of the century (not the last turn, the one before). A Royal Music Hall’s 23 members put on A Christmas Carol. As fate would have it, 20 of the cast are in the throes of food poisoning. Intrepid troupers that they are, the remaining trio go on with the show.
The inevitable ensues. Cloaking the traditional story of Jacob Marley, Bob Cratchit and Ebenezer Scrooge with its supporting ghostly entourage is a musical of outrageous proportions. A dozen and a half songs, with sprightly piano accompaniment by Alfred (David Bonofiglio), propel the surprising 90-minute spin of multiple role-playing. It’s a delicious and refreshing cocktail of Oscar Wildean repartee, Monty Python-esque burlesque, and Vaudevillian drag show, plus a shot of Gilbert & Sullivan.
The ribald jokes, gender-bending impersonation and raw slapstick bring out the bawdy, musical-hall character of late 19th-century London. It’s not your grandmother’s Christmas Carol of poor Tiny Tim with barely enough coal to keep the stove going. It’s a gluttonous feast of nut-filled, rum soaked English holiday pudding. (In Tandem management invites you to imbibe during intermission “to make the story seem more plausible.”) But there’s wisdom, too, as Lottie reminds us “a kiss is like a spider’s web. It often leads to the undoing of a fly.”
Daniels stands out. How could he not? It’s not often one sees a six-foot something man in vividly Victorian woman’s attire. But aside from his commanding physical presence, his vocals and demeanor certainly set a bar for any future Lotties, should there ever be any. Flieller’s energetic glee as Charlie and the various roles he plays is palpable. Kearns, whose character plays the incongruous role of Scrooge, among others, rounds out the cast with equal enthusiasm. They’ve all mastered their Anglo accents from posh to cockney. In all, they deliver a show that will banish the most stalwart bah-humbug – at least for this season.
Scrooge in Rouge runs through Dec. 31 at the Tenth Street Theatre, in the lower level of Calvary Church (you know, the Red Church), at 10th and Wisconsin Ave. Tickets are $20 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and matinees and $25 on weekend evenings. Call 414-271-1371.