Review: A Christmas Carol at B Street Theatre and Sacramento Theatre Company
’Tis the season for everyone’s favorite holiday anti-hero, Ebenezer Scrooge, to show us the error of our selfish ways, to delight us with a Victorian Christmas fantasy and to make us wish we actually understood what a figgy pudding was. Sacramento theater patrons have the annual choice of two versions of the classic story: Sacramento Theatre Company’s musical rendition—directed by Michael Jenkinson and Michael Laun—and B Street Theatre’s farcical sequel—written and directed by Buck Busfield.
STC’s production offers a storybook adaptation by Richard Hellesen and David de Berry, drawing most dialogue directly from Dickens’ original text. Matt K. Miller plays a pitch-perfect, miserly Scrooge against a large, energetic ensemble who are double- or triple-cast in the scenes from Christmases past, present and future. The show revels in party and crowd scenes—complete with a beer stein-thumping dance number—that succeed at sweeping up both the audience and Scrooge in their cheerful spirit.
However, viewers who came not for the Fezziwig Ball so much as the thrice-haunted, OG nightmare before Christmas experience will not be disappointed. Choice technical effects bring the spooky-factor to Dickens’ beloved ghost story, and a scene-stealing collaboration between costume designer Jessica Minnihan and actor Melinda Parrett served me the ethereal “Tilda Swinton as powdered-wig Ziggy Stardust Christmas Past” realness that I was, as the kids say, there for. The show offers delightfully ominous visions and powerful, direct audience address to caution us all against letting greed crowd out our hope for a better world.
Some 20 blocks away, B Street Theatre indulges us in our collective right to “Bah! Humbug!” In Busfield’s reimagining, Greg Alexander plays a long-jaded Scrooge trapped in a Groundhog Day-esque yearly cycle, in which every Christmas Eve he experiences a redemptive conversion and falls from grace by January.
The show is part of B Street’s Family Series, and caters to younger audiences with ample fourth-wall busting asides, cartoonish physical violence and bathroom humor, alongside some genuinely funny gags, as when the ghost of Christmas past zooms in, hovering and twirling like Satan’s own Roomba.
In this version, most of the story focuses on Scrooge’s attempts to skip out on his three ghostly visions, even when the ghosts turn to Dickens’ increasingly unflattering “first-draft” visions of Ebenezer’s life. Light on the life lessons but heavy on the pratfalls, this play offers an impressive number of quick changes and preposterous accents from a cast of five who play the dozens of characters that make up this Christmas tale—and a few new ones, to boot.
Hearing the Dickens story again, I was struck by how relevant this 19th-century tale continues to be in a city where homelessness is a major issue year-round, and in a time when many of our modern-day Cratchits still struggle to afford health care. Perhaps what is most telling about these two productions is that even though the B Street production directly spoofs the type of show that STC is running, the classic tale can more than stand up to its satire, making room for both productions in one town.