|Malia Tippets, Jared Mack, Joe Theissen, Tim Blough, Sarah Maines, |
Jade Tate, Jackson Wells, and Jeffrey Childs. Photo by Sam Ortega
By Tina Arth
I love the holiday season, but the avalanche of shows around the beginning of December can be a bit overwhelming. Broadway Rose, not surprisingly, hit just the right note by opening A 1940’s Radio Christmas Carol Thanksgiving weekend, at least a week ahead of the rest of the crowd. More importantly, from a pack of five in recent years, theirs is the most charming, touching, and musically thrilling (some of the harmonies gave me chills!) take on the “Radio Christmas Carol” genre I’ve seen – with no sacrifice in the quality of the comedy. The collaboration between director Dan Murphy and musical director Jeffrey Childs creates a seamless flow between the show’s musical, dramatic, and comic elements – with some unexpected twists that keep the audience on its toes.
It’s Christmas Eve, 1943, and the Feddington Players are more than a little cranky about their move from NYC to a hole-in-the-wall studio in Newark, NJ for their rendition of A Christmas Carol. The plumbing is loud, the signal weak, and the electrical system temperamental. Starring in the title role of Scrooge is veteran actor (but radio newbie) William St. Claire, who is not thrilled with the current trajectory of his career and has a woefully inadequate understanding of the different demands of radio (e.g., no need for costumes, much less costume changes!). Adding to the general malaise, the rest of the cast learns before his arrival that St. Claire has lost a son in the skies above WWII France. However, the show must go on, and even when St. Claire’s heart-wrenching on-air breakdown drives it off the rails the rest of the cast’s “can-do” attitude brings it to a hilarious (but very bizarre) conclusion. Without giving too much away, let us just say that it’s the only time I’ve seen Tiny Tim and the Lindbergh Baby in such close proximity…
Tim Blough (as St. Claire) is an experienced and deft actor whose resonant voice and dignified affect stand in stark contrast to the frequently wacky performances of his cast mates. Much of the show’s emotional content comes from his gradual evolution from Scrooge to grieving father, done so smoothly that I really didn’t know what was happening until he neared his personal climax. The rest of the cast members offer multidimensional portraits of ordinary people (well, ordinary show people) carrying on in the midst of the grim realities of war. Jade Tate is hilarious as Sally Simpson, the living embodiment of Rosie the Riveter, and her lightning-fast transitions playing all of Bob Cratchit’s daughters are a wonder to behold. With little more than a few lines in Hebrew, Jared Mack uses his character, Cholly Butts, to gently remind us that Jews, even in America, have a special connection to the tragic events in Europe. I was impressed but confused by the skillful musical direction from “Toots Navarre” – until I read the program at intermission and realized that real-life musical director Jeffrey Childs, one of the best of the best of the local music men, had stepped downstage to let the audience watch him work his magic.
The 18 musical numbers are a nice mix of classic carols and new songs written for the show –delivered with a sly confession that the WOV Radio Network can’t pay royalties, so they have to rely on new material and songs in the public domain. Malia Tippets’ lively “That Cute Little Elf” starts the show with comic flare, and Sarah Maines’ haunting “Quiet Night” closes the show on a somber note that brings home the reality of war, especially poignant with the lovely monologue by Foley artist Buzz Crenshaw (William Shindler). The lush ensemble arrangements allow the entire cast to shine, and Mack’s lead on “All Through the Night” gave me goose bumps.
Robert Vaughan’s detailed scenic design and Sarah Marguier’s authentic costuming give the show period authenticity, immediately transporting the audience back 76 years and immersing us in the spirit of a tragic but hopeful era – so very different from our own in superficial ways, and so completely alike in the things that matter.
This show will sell out quickly (many performances are already full) – get your tickets asap for what may turn out to be the best show of the season!
A 1940’s Radio Christmas Carol is playing at Broadway Rose’s New Stage, 12850 SW Grant Avenue, Tigard through Sunday, December 23d.