A Christmas Carol at Le Petit Theatre thru Dec. 23
[A Christmas Carol returns to Le Petit through Dec. 23. The following is my review from December 2018 of the original production. All of the actors mentioned below will be part of this year’s show.]
Christmas arrived early at Le Petit this year with a smashing new production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
To be honest, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to this holiday classic. I’ve read it. I’ve seen it on stage and screen. “Been there, done that,” I thought.
But from the electrifying start, this new adaptation by Maxwell Williams, Le Petit’s Artistic Director, and Curtis Billings, completely engrossed me. I can’t tell you exactly why because, in terms of the script, there’s nothing radical about it.
All the major plot points and characters–Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley, the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present & Future, Bob Cratchit and, of course, Tiny Tim–are still there. Williams/Billings haven’t transposed the setting to the French Quarter or modern day NYC or LA.
What they have done, however, is to find the perfect balance between humor, seriousness and supernatural wizardry, while keeping any sentimentality from creeping in, so as to blow Carol’s accumulated cobwebs away and thus reveal its eternal truths.
As director, Williams has, unlike previous productions of his, cast the show perfectly and elicited just-right performances from all of his actors. Each segment proceeds at a finely calibrated pace, never lingering too long as we meet the moneylender Scrooge and see how youthful hardships and disappointments caused him to become this bitter miser.
Aided by Evan F. Adamson’s beautiful set, Kathleen Van Horn’s spot-on costumes, and Andrew F. Griffin’s perfect lighting, Williams has created a Carol that’s visually stunning. Perhaps best of all are Nicholas Hussong’s ingenious projections which effectively deliver otherworldliness without any cliches.
Of course, any Christmas Carol can only be as good as its Scrooge and Le Petit is fortunate to have do-no-wrong Bob Edes, Jr. whose commanding performance could stand with the greatest of Scrooges past, present or future. Edes brings an almost Shakespearean complexity to the initially frosty man and then slowly melts–watch how his body transforms–as warmth enters his heart.
Other stand-outs in the cast include Julia DeLois (Xmas Past), Zeb Hollins III (Xmas Present), Kate Kuen (Mrs. Cratchit), John Neisler (Marley), Michael A. Newcomer (Nephew Fred), Sean Patterson (Mr. Fezziwig), and Billings as Bob Cratchit.
In an interview in the playbill, Williams states that Le Petit intends to remount this production annually, so if you can’t see it this year do plan on catching it next. Until then, let’s hope some of the folks in Washington, DC, might go through such a wondrous transformation as Ebenezer Scrooge does.
[Next up at Le Petit is Something Rotten! Set in 1595, this musical tells how musicals came to be. Hint: A certain “Bard” puts in an appearance. When I saw it on Broadway in 2015, I described it as “pure entertainment, two-and-a-half hours of blissfully sophisticated silliness.”]
LPO’s Holiday Spectacular with The 610 Stompers at the Mahalia Jackson Theater on December 14
[The Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) presents its annual Holiday Spectacular with The 610 Stompers on December 14 at the Mahalia Jackson Theater. Following are excerpts from my reviews of the past few years. This year’s theme is “A Stomper Christmas Carol”. I suspect this will be an Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim unlike any Charles Dickens ever imagined!]
(From 2016:) I had heard that the LPO’s Holiday Spectacular with The 610 Stompers last year was a blast and I resolved not to miss it this year. Accustomed to seeing the Stompers boogeying along in Carnival parades, I wasn’t sure what to expect. How many “extraordinary moves” could these “ordinary men” make at the Orpheum Theater? Quite a few, all fabulous, as it turned out.
This year’s script, straightforward but laced with sly humor by Ryan Murphy and intoned in a steady voice by Mark Laforet, had the Stompers helping Santa (wearing shrimp boots, of course) to deliver toys to kids around the world. As they made various stops along the way, the different locales occasioned appropriate orchestral, vocal or dance numbers.
There were touch-downs in Russia for some ballet; in Scotland for a Highland dance in kilts; and in Hawaii for a hula dance with grass skirts and leis. Anyone who has seen these bearded, tattooed and bear-bellied naturally N’awleanians will understand a note I made in my program that “they leave you speechless.”
Yet what made this program great, among other things, was that the Stompers take themselves, or at least their dancing, seriously and don’t camp things up; well, no more than the basic gag of guys in wife-beaters and pale blue polyester shorts doing jetés. They may not be Nureyevs, but it’s clear they have mastered a variety of styles in their inimitable polished-but-not-too-polished way.
Making the Spectacular spectacular, however, were a number of other local performers representing other cultures as well. Holding all this together was guest conductor Lucas Waldin who elicited a lush full sound and crisp playing from the LPO, particularly the expert percussion section, throughout the evening.
But it was the Stompers’ triumphant night. Whether doing a June Taylor-esque routine to the Charleston or proving they’re our own hairy-chested Rockettes as the Babes in Toyland soldiers, they were all ineffably precious, an “Only in NOLA” phenomenon. As one of them said to me after the show, “They don’t get us anywhere else.” Pity.
(From 2017:) I had missed the LPO’s first Holiday Spectacular featuring the 610 Stompers in 2015 and resolved to see last year’s edition which turned out to be fabulous. Could they top themselves this year? Indeed they did.
Whereas last year’s Spectacular had a “round the world” theme and included a diverse variety of local cultural groups, for 2017 the Stompers, following the lead of the LPO which will be performing at Carnegie Hall in February, vowed to return to New York to follow up their Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade triumph of a few years ago, thus explaining the title’s subheading From the Big Easy to the Big Apple.
This prompted the LPO and the Stompers to use an assortment of show tunes for the program. In their red jacket/white shirt/blue shorts outfits, and despite some prodigious guts overhanging certain Stompers’ waistlines, they displayed supreme confidence and impeccable style as they launched into such challenging numbers as Fiddler on the Roof’s Bottle Dance (wearing no kneepads!) and All That Jazz from Chicago. One wishes Jerome Robbins or Bob Fosse could have seen such breathtaking terpsichorean mastery.
Constantine Kitsopoulos lovingly conducted throughout, especially the more traditional Christmas numbers that alternated with the Stompers such as Silent Night, White Christmas and Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. Every section of the LPO played superbly as always.
For some reason, the show’s title, Holiday Spectacular?, ended with a question mark. That might be the only inappropriate thing about this special holiday event as it unquestionably deserved a “!”
(From 2018:) Anything that goes on for more than two years here can claim to be a tradition. Now in its fourth year, the LPO’s Holiday Spectacular featuring the 610 Stompers has now apparently become as much a part of the season as Scrooges and Sugarplum Fairies. Of course, this LPO tradition is as unique to our region as the Bonfires on the Levee that light the way for Papa Noël!
Having traveled around the world in 2016 and “from the Big Easy to the Big Apple” last year, 2018’s mission for these “Ordinary Men with Extraordinary Moves” was no less than to save Christmas after Santa had gone astray. And save it they did with the help of some fairy princesses and one towering drag queen [The gorgeous and supremely talented Varla Jean Merman.]
Alternating with the purely musical numbers, the Stompers displayed their June Taylor-esque moves, expertly choreographed by Karen Hebert with loving humor, as they headed to the North Pole. Led by the fearless, if ever-bepuzzled, Slab (aka Brett Patron), the Stompers battled Quarter Rats (to the Mambo of West Side Story); reprised their precise March of the Toy Soldiers as they got entangled with some Canadian Mounties; and performed their own version of The Nutcracker’s Russian Dance that would have left George Balanchine confused but probably grinning.
As fabulously amusing as the Stompers & Friends were, this remained an LPO concert and conductor Raúl Gómez-Rojas did a fine job of leading the orchestra and shaping all the numbers with beautiful sculptural precision. And he’s quite the cutie too.
The LPO and the 610 Stompers provided another joyful mix of serious music-making and only-in-New Orleans fun for both Spectacular virgins and veterans alike. May this tradition flourish for as long as there’s a Big Easy!
The Tennessee Williams Theatre Company of New Orleans (TWTC) presents the seldom seen Period of Adjustment which opened on Broadway in 1960. In it, two couples are smashed together in one house on Christmas Eve…and nobody’s getting what they want for Christmas, it seems. It’s one of Williams’ few, if only, comedies, albeit a dark one, and demonstrates that he had the same kind of feelings about Christmas get-togethers as most of us do–complicated.
TWTC brings in some new (at least to me) faces for this production. Husband’n’wife Ryan and Lizzie Bruce will direct a cast that includes John Lavin, Sonia Rose Arredondo, Mia Frost, and John Wettermark. Rounding out the ensemble are two local favorites, Tracey Collins and Matt Story. The set is by Kenneth Thompson who created the imposingly eerie design for TWTC’s Suddenly Last Summer earlier this year.
Period of Adjustment runs December 6-21 at the Lower Depths Theatre on the campus of Loyola University. Should provide lots of Ho-ho-ho’s and Ha-ha-ha’s.
The Radical Buffoon(s) opens its third season with the regional premiere of RAP Unzel by Jeremy Rashad Brown which was commissioned by Austin Scottish Rite Theatre and premiered there this past February.
A 60-minute exploration of identity, empowerment, and awareness, RAP Unzel uses hip-hop, music, and dance, to tell the story of Reginald “RAP” Unzel III, a young man with big hair and even bigger dreams of musical stardom. Recently relocated to New Orleans after the loss of his father, RAP is hidden away by his mother who worries that his big personality will get him hurt, or worse.
Torey Hayward directs Brian Egland, Zondra Howard, Alexandria Miles, Alex Frosch, Justin Davis, and Olivia Ros. RAP Unzel plays daytimes at Southern Rep’s Sanctuary Stage (2541 Bayou Rd.) December 14 through 29.
On Sunday, December 22, Murray & Peter will present A Drag Queen Christmas – The Naughty Tour at The Fillmore (6 Canal St.), a magical (and hilarious) evening of holiday performances featuring contestants from RuPaul’s Drag Race on VH1. It’s sure to be an evening of festive songs and outstanding drag with your favorite queens rocking the catwalk and doing their thing live on stage. Doors at 7pm, show at 8pm. For more information or tickets, go to www.fillmorenola.com.
Please send press releases and notices of your upcoming shows to Brian Sands at firstname.lastname@example.org.