“Marley was dead: to begin with.” Is there a better first sentence in English literature? If you don’t think so already, “A Merry Little Christmas Carol” — Mark Shanahan’s loving and laugh-filled adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” running through Dec. 29 at Hoboken’s Mile Square Theatre — may just convince you.
Shanahan, who also directed MST’s hilarious adaption of Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” in 2017, uses four actors to play all the familiar characters in the beloved Christmas classic save Ebenezer Scrooge himself, who is portrayed against type by Bruce Warren. Instead of the wizened, white-haired geezer we’ve come to know, Warren’s Scrooge is a barrel-chested, middle-aged capitalist with a full black beard and ponytail. He could just as easily make a convincing Tevye, but from the first moment he barks at poor Bob Cratchit, Warren becomes the joyless miser we’ve come to know and hate.
The chubby, impish Paul Gary, recalling a young Nathan Lane, plays Cratchit and a host of other characters, male and female. Joe Delafield — so good as the dashing hero of Shanahan’s “The 39 Steps” — assays young characters such as Scrooge’s good-natured nephew and Cratchit’s elder son. Kelsey Roberts and Joi Danielle Price handle most of the female roles; Roberts shines as Scrooge’s boyhood crush and first love, while Price enhances her turn as the Ghost of Christmas Present with a lovely song.
Music figures throughout the play, actually, as the cast sings bits of familiar Christmas carols, adding to the holiday mood.
The portrayal of Tiny Tim seemed a bit wooden, but I won’t ruin the surprise about why that is.
You know the story. Marley is dead — seven years dead on this particular Christmas Eve, when his ghost visits his mean old partner, Scrooge, and announces that Scrooge will be visited by three spirits. Scrooge, a man who has no use for Christmas, revisits the holidays of his youth, has his eyes opened to the Christmases enjoyed by those around him in the present, and gets a horrifying glimpse of how his sad, lonely life might end on a Christmas yet to come. Scrooge awakens on Christmas Day, reformed and reborn, and vows to keep Christmas in his heart every day of the year for the rest of his life.
“A Merry Little Christmas Carol” tells the story we know, but puts a happy, silly spin on the tale. The show had me laughing out loud through most of its 90 minutes and tearing up a bit at the end. Shanahan’s direction keeps the story moving briskly, cleverly providing little bits to entertain us while the cast dons different costumes and wigs offstage. A few running jokes (what does “dead as a doornail” mean anyway?) and a handful of sly anachronisms add a contemporary feel to the proceedings.
Hint, hint: Theater tickets make a wonderful gift, and “A Merry Little Christmas Carol” will entertain audiences from eight to 80. Kudos to Mile Square Theatre company for this wonderful holiday treat and, in the timeless words of Tiny Tim, God bless us, every one.
“A Merry Little Christmas Carol” is at Mile Square Theatre in Hoboken through Dec. 29; visit milesquaretheatre.org.
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