Glib conservative Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Peter Bronson recently dismissed Know Theatre's production of Christmas Yet to Come without even seeing it. In my book, that's enough to inspire me to go, but he really missed the point.
"If taxpayers were given a choice between more cops and art like the city-funded Know Theatre's self-described 'hot and seedy' Rock-opera-with-a-drag-queen version of A Christmas Carol, I think most citizens would choose the cop," Bronson said in a column.
If that's true, those taxpayers would miss an original and entertaining holiday show.
If you've seen Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol in one of its many onstage incarnations this time of year, you might think one more is hardly necessary. But Know Theatre's premiere of a new script (written and directed by Artistic Director Jason Bruffy) will inspire more believers than Bronson, make no mistake. It takes Dickens' familiar narrative about an ill-tempered man with no holiday spirit and contemporizes it with music and dance. Most of the familiar characters are present, although they've evolved into distinctly 2006 versions.
Local professional actor Nick Rose is Scrooge; he's been part of another version of this story previously (having performed for several seasons in Cincinnati Shakespeare's Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol), but now he's portraying a contemporary, cold-hearted businessman with an aversion to good cheer. He intimidates a guy who works for him (Derek Snow) who's having a hard time making ends meet, and he's especially dismissive of his nephew Fred (Adam Standley) because he's good-natured and gay.
The three ghosts that haunt Scrooge have been upgraded for 2006. Christmas Past is played by Victoria Lee Wood, a 9-year-old girl; Christmas Present is a drag queen (Robert Williams) who's sassy and brassy (she insists on being called "Miz Present"); Christmas Future is a dancer in white rags (Ashley Klein).
Dancing, in fact, is a major component of this production, which has been staged by Know Theatre in collaboration with Exhale Dance Tribe. That means that another 10 or so performers bring a choreographed element to the show; Missy Lay Zimmer has created the jazzy, off-balance movements that nicely evoke the show's off-kilter elaborations on Scrooge's tale.
There are 11 songs, although not a traditional Christmas tune among them. If I told you the music is drawn from the works of Coldplay, Postal Service, My Chemical Romance and Christina Aguilera, you might wonder how that could possibly work. But the creative team has chosen numbers that bring forward modern messages of the season. (One piece of Know publicity suggests a similarity with the film Moulin Rouge, which blended a classic story with modern tunes, and the comparison is apt.)
Derek Snow sings Bruce Springsteen's heartfelt ballad "Leah" while Kelly Kline and Priya Ram dance. Rufus Wainwright's "Poses" is sung with emotion by Adam Standley and Christopher Guthrie, reflecting the depth of feeling between the couple. Simultaneously Liz Holt and Ashley Klein dance in closely partnered figures that reflect a powerfully dependent relationship.
Most of the performances are backed by a five-musician band, led by percussionist O. yemi. (Williams' Christmas Present drag queen appropriately and energetically lip-syncs Aretha Franklin's "Deeper Love" in one of the show's more amusing moments.)
I can't say everything in this production hangs together perfectly: Some lyrics are lost in the volume and enthusiasm of delivery; if you don't know the music (I didn't), the relevance might be lost on you. The dances, while performed with athletic polish, could have been conceived with more variety.
But there is a kid of youthful vitality in this production. I especially responded to the finale, which uses All American Rejects' "Move Along." Its buoyant mood stayed with me when I left the theater, a feeling quite compatible with the holidays.
This modern interpretation of a holiday classic made relevant to younger audiences with inventive spirit and execution is a good addition to our choice of seasonal entertainment. As a taxpayer, I'm glad my city invested in this production. Grade: B
CHRISTMAS YET TO COME, presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati, continues through Dec. 23.