Please support local arts reporting and click to read at Onstage NTX
Jill Sweeney | Onstage NTX
How to classify Scrooge in Rouge, the scruffy, bawdy holiday trifle currently on offer at Stage West? Is it English musical-hall broadness? Vaudeville slapstick? Borscht-belt humor, with a dash of Carol Burnett for flavor? Whatever the label, it’s nonsense at heart, nonsense of the highest order. And frankly, after the last few years, we’ll take a hit of nonsense, please and thank you. Queen Victoria may not be amused but nuts to her—the audience sure was.
The plot (such as it is) is fairly simple to sum up: a 20-person variety act, mounting a music hall production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, is struck down by food poisoning on opening night and reduced to a mere three actors (with musical accompaniment). The actors in question gamely attempt to carry on the play: shenanigans naturally ensue. It’s hardly a new formula (Nunsense comes to mind, which utilizes precisely the same gimmick), so it’s the four cast members—Gloria Vivica Benavides, Jovane Caamaño, Alejandro Saucedo, and Cherish Robinson-- who need to bring the heat. Thankfully, we’re in good hands with this bunch.
Benavides’ Vesta Virile, a “male impersonator,” anchors the play-within-a-play as a moustache-twirling (and occasionally removing) Ebenezer Scrooge, the man “so mean he’d send an orphan a Mother’s Day card” and “so tight-fisted that fortune tellers had to read his knuckles.” Striding and grumbling about the stage as Scrooge, Benavides’ Vesta moves from harried lead keeping the ship on course to an increasingly sarcastic commentator on the action, with funny ad-libs throughout. Caamaño’s Charlie Schmaltz, the “Paderewski of Paddington”, would deserve plaudits for sheer stamina alone: the number of (increasingly ill-fitting) costumes he had to scramble into was a feat of endurance. His turns as Scrooge’s indefatigably cheerful nephew Fred (flapping his sleeves in a coat clearly meant for an actor a foot or two taller) and as the Ghost of Christmas Past were particular favorites.
Another actor who left it a-aaaall on the field was Alejandro Saucedo as the dim but energetic “singing soubrette” Lottie Obbligato. Hey, so what if her jokes are groaners and she thinks the author of A Christmas Carol is one Dick Chickens? Her high notes are a dream (truly—Saucedo’s vocal control is impressive). And where would our merry band of players be without their musical accompaniment? Cherish Robinson, doing double-duty as performer and the show’s musical director, gives a droll turn as Alfred Da Cappo, tickling the ivories and acting as de facto emcee for the night with just the right Cockney flair.
The chaos flourishes in the capable hands of director Danielle Georgiou (at this point, we might need to start rating her a quadruple threat!), who also handled the appropriately shaggy choreography for the piece. A particular gem was the surprisingly (certainly to Scrooge) erotic number between Mr. and Mrs. Fezziwig and their young apprentice in flashback. Didn’t see that one coming….
Kudos to set designer Lori Honeycutt for a set that had just enough dinge to suggest the third-rate company we’re dealing with, and to costume designer Sarah Mosher for not just the sheer volume of the (intentionally) ill-fitting costumes on display, but for braving what must’ve been multiple Michael’s craft aisles to find the Christmas baubles festooning several of the ladies’ costumes.
All in all, it ain’t Shakespeare, it ain’t even really Dickens, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun, and it certainly isn’t your average Christmas fare. Send grandma and the kiddos over to Rudolph or Nutcracker. Grownups, grab a glass (or two) and come out to Stage West for this naughty-list romp.
Running through December 24; more info at stagewest.org