A Christmas Carol at Loyola’s Marquette Theater through Dec. 21
Crescent City Stage is presenting Patrick Barlow’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at Loyola’s Marquette Theater through December 21. In the spirit of the season, let’s do a “Naughty” and “Nice” review–
–James Lanius III’s projections take us outside to the cobblestone streets of Victorian England and inside to dwellings both sumptuous and simple. With cinematic fluidity, using rear screen projection (or some other technological wizardry), Lanius whisks us from Ebeneezer Scrooge’s cramped office to his bedroom where it looks like real snow is falling outside the window to the Fezziwig ballroom and the Cratchits’ warm abode. I don’t know how Lanius, who has worked similar magic in Let the Right One In and Sweet Bird of Youth this season, does this but it’s a wonder.
–Michael A. Newcomer gives us an utterly stern Scrooge who, at the start, reeks of bone deep miserliness and autocratic, humorless rule. His Scrooge is genuinely mean–no cutesy stuff here–the better for his ultimate redemption. This Scrooge is no one-note baddie, however, as Newcomer etches him with filigreed detail, making him all-too-scarily human.
–Erin Cessna, Eleanor Humphrey, Ryan Reilly, and LeBaron Thornton play all the other characters, from Tiny Tim to doors (you read that right) with actorly panache, each shining as assorted ghosts, children, and relatives & customers of Scrooge.
–Whether using ominous music or an orange fan to stand in for a fire, Director Elizabeth Elkins Newcomer effectively conjures up the proper moods and set pieces for this oft-told tale with bounteous imagination, never permitting the pacing to flag. Jahise LeBouef’s period appropriate costumes and Liam Gardner’s lighting, both cozy and supernatural (I especially liked the coatracks that doubled as lamps), aptly enhance the production. And the Cratchit kids may be mere puppets but they’re highly individualized ones.
Michael A. Newcomer and the cast of A Christmas Carol (photo by Brittney Werner)
–Barlow’s adaptation is quite good, but I wish it went by just a smidge faster or was a bit tighter; scenes tend to go on a minute or two too long despite E. Newcomer’s and the cast’s fine work. Ten minutes less, trimmed with scalpel-like precision, would’ve made this Carol sing with even more flair.
–I can’t quite explain why, but Scrooge’s ultimate unscroogeing was not quite as affecting as in some other Carols. Ironically, given my previous comment, it may be because his transformation came too quickly, but no lump rose in my throat as has happened when other Scrooges have redeemed themselves. Still, Dickens’ classic remains as worthy today, with its humanist sentiment, as it was when it first appeared in 1843.
–The “meta” stuff, in which some of the actors refer to the audience (and which I usually enjoy), here comes so late in the show that it takes us out of Dickens’ world unnecessarily and could be done without. Still, this is a minor quibble.
So, no matter how many Christmas Carols may have been in your past, if you’re looking for something to do in the present, hie thee to Loyola’s Marquette Theater for this new version. In the future, you’ll be happy you did.
[For more information and tickets, go to https://www.crescentcitystage.com/]
Wicked at the Saenger Theatre through December 17
The blockbuster Wicked has returned to New Orleans for its fourth visit here through December 17. This is my third time seeing it after the Broadway version (2004) and its 2016 stop at the Saenger. Again, “Naughty” and “Nice” seems apropos–
–Susan Hilferty’s inventive costumes and Eugene Lee’s quick-changing set continue to be as fabulous as ever.
–Celia Hottenstein and Laurel Harris do full justice to Glinda, the Good Witch, and Elphaba, the “wicked” one, respectively. Hottenstein’s voice displayed a bit of a wobble at first, but by Popular she sounded fine and captured Glinda’s steeliness and need to be the Queen Bee as well as her (eventual) affection for and devotion to “Elphie”. Harris, a standby for the role, was not only suitably nerdy and gawky, but forcefully supplied the moral heart of the show while belting Defying Gravity’s high notes into the stratosphere.
–The rest of the cast are all fine with handsome Christian Thompson as Fiyero, the love interest of both witches, not only convincingly transforming from jejune cad to selfless hero, but, more than the other two Fiyeros I’ve seen, actually making you believe his love for Elphaba is real.
–I’m not sure if this is “nice” but, given current events, such lines as “People will believe anything” and “The truth is just things people agree on” stood out as they never have before. And if Wicked’s wicked Wizard made me think of such current and (potentially) future dictators as Putin and Trump when I saw the musical in 2016, this time I could only marvel at how prescient bookwriter Winnie Holzman and novelist Gregory Maguire, upon whose book the show is based, were in crafting these duplicitous characters.
–Even from the last row of the Saenger’s orchestra, the show sounded good and lost none of its visual punch (though it was punchier when I had a young girl sitting in front of me for Act One; I switched at intermission to give my companion, who had been bobbing back and forth behind said young girl’s mother, the unobstructed view).
Celia Hottenstein and Olivia Valli in Wicked (photo by Joan Marcus)
–Other than The Wizard and I, Popular, and Defying Gravity, Stephen Schwartz’ score is pretty anodyne and forgettable, not nearly in the same league as his tune-filled ones for Godspell and Pippin.
–In crafting the backstory to The Wizard of Oz, Holzman’s book seems somewhat forced compared to, say, Peter and the Starcatcher, which does the same thing for Peter Pan; in Starcatcher, all the pieces click into place with an elegance that Wicked lacks.
–As has always been the case, other than a few moments when Glinda reaches out to help make Elphaba more popular, Wicked simply didn’t move me or engage my heart. And for a musical, that’s wicked indeed.
So, putting aside its camp quotient, which bubbles up in the second act, and implicit gay fantasy in which the nerd gets the hot guy in the end (Maguire is openly gay), I can understand Wicked’s appeal to women and girls of all ages with its two strong female leads whose relationship develops from enemies to buddies. But that it’s become the fourth longest-running show in Broadway history? Maybe I’ll have to ask the Wiz to explain that.
[For tickets and more info, go to https://www.saengernola.com/events/wicked/]
Wheel of Fortune LIVE! at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts
Wheel of Fortune LIVE!, a theatrical version of “America’s Game”, recently spun by the Mahalia Jackson Theater. Mark L. Walberg, of Antiques Roadshow fame, hosted; the lovely Kalpana Pot stood in for Vanna White; and three games were played with contestants randomly selected from the audience. Here’s one last N_U__TY and N_C_ review–
–We, meaning me, the audience & everyone else at the Mahalia Jackson Theater had no idea how things would turn out. That’s the bestest dramatic tension I’ve experienced in all my theatergoing of 2023.
–Cody the warm-up guy, aka “the greatest game show announcer at this price point” had some good lines (“If ever there was a city built for Ozempic!”) as he pepped up the audience and remained an engaging pe4sence throughout the evening.
–The audience was clearly there to have a good time, and that spirit was infectious. That said, some people were having too good a time like the lady who, given a chance to solve a puzzle for a small prize, couldn’t figure out the phrase even when all but two of the letters were revealed!
Mark L. Walberg and contestants during Wheel of Fortune LIVE!,
–This touring “experience” was kinda chintzy. Winners got only $200 per game (c’mon give ‘em $500…or more); Pot wore the same (attractive) dress all evening (couldn’t she have changed at least once?); the Wheel kept breaking down (tho Vinnie the stage tech did an ace job of fixing it…repeatedly); and one less “Bankrupt” on the Wheel might’ve allowed for a more festive experience.
–The grand prize final category was “Place” and the contestant did well with her letter-picking so she was faced with _ _C_ _G_NG COM_ _N_ . The solution? PACKAGING COMPANY Really? That’s so far out as “places” go it might as well have been Neptune or Uranus.
–Wahlberg was good, gently teasing the contestants, but could have been even better in terms of overall humor and empathy; while he rightly cautioned the audience continually to not yell out answers, he could’ve better prompted contestants to respond faster or look at the used letter board. And while one gay contestant proudly mentioned his husband and recent honeymoon, there was a whiff of homophobia vis a vis comments made about guys hugging.
Still, overall, Wheel of Fortune LIVE! was lotsa fun. And if I wish more folks had gone home winners, you can’t entirely blame W_E_L O_ F_R_UN_ for that!