By Manning Harris
The very zany folks who brought you “Shut Up, Sweet Charlotte” are back in time for the holidays with “Scrooge in Rouge” at the 14th Street Playhouse through December 27. The current show is described as “A British Music Hall Christmas Carol somewhat loosely based” on Charles Dickins’ “A Christmas Carol.” This 80 minute musical play is a refreshing “adult” alternative to the Alliance Theatre’s annual gargantuan production, playing one block away.
The year is 1843. It seems that 17 of the 20-member cast of Her Majesty’s Promenade Grand Theatre have fallen victim to food poisoning, leaving but three intrepid players to take up the gauntlet and prove that the show, indeed, must go on. They are more than up to the task, and we are plunged into the midst of a gender-bending joyride with the three cheerfully playing all the parts.
Leading the charge is Varla Jean Merman (Jeffrey T. Robinson), an actor of extraordinary theatricality, who can trill like Beverly Sills and mug like Mae West and W.C. Fields combined. Her character (Lottie Obligatto) takes no prisoners and in her towering costumes easily dominates (but not overpowers) the stage. She is a co-author of the script.
Miss Varla is joined onstage by Charlie Schmaltz (Ricky Graham); Mr. Graham is director, chief author (one gathers), and co-star. He is also the show’s lyricist, and the songs are full of enough twists and turns and innuendos to make Gilbert and Sullivan blush with envy.
Vesta Virile, played by Yvette Hargis, completes the show’s characters; and she, too, is a gender-mystery, which of course is part of the fun. All of these performers are stage animals, as theatre people are wont to say, and this is high praise. It is their technical and visual virtuosity that makes for a rollicking evening.
Have you ever seen San Francisco’s long running “Beach Blanket Babylon?” If so, you have some idea of the campiness and the incredible costumes (and the hats!) that “Scrooge in Rouge” parades.
There is a fourth person onstage, and that is Alfred Da Capo (Jefferson Turner), our fine pianist and composer of the score, which harkens back lovingly (and with much irony) to the 19th Century British music hall. The show, by the way, is produced by Reaction Productions.
There is undoubtedly no socially redeeming value or moral to this entertainment, and therein lies its charm. Oscar Wilde, speaking of art, said that “those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.” You won’t have to worry about that here; there’s nothing below, just “surface” fun and dazzlement. But isn’t that a large part of holiday fun? Better hasten to the intimacy of the 14th Street Theatre; these performers won’t let you down. Websites: 14thstplayhouse.org or woodruffcenter.org.