Stable in the Back

Rated 2.0 What if the commercialism of Christmas started at Christ’s birth, right in the stable? That’s the clever premise of Celebration Arts’ homegrown production Stable in the Back, which returns after its debut last year. This musical, written and directed by Celebration Arts’ artistic director, James Wheatley, is told from the unique perspective of the innkeeper who allows the holy family to park in the stable behind his Do Drop Inn.The story is divided between a panicky Joseph and the money-hungry innkeeper, Sam, with other sundry characters coming and going. It’s all overseen by two narrators and three modern-day angels.

The costumes, sets and songs set the tone for this funkified version of the Christmas story. It’s played against a backdrop of a graffiti-filled back alley, with costumes that mix modern street fashions and old-school robes. Similarly, the music blends classic and current tunes, with some impressive numbers by Wheatley.

We never do see Mary and the holy child, but we do see the impact the birth has on Sam. He notices a star overhead is attracting crowds, as well as strangers bearing gifts. Being a man of money, Sam sees an opportunity to cash in on his stable’s newfound popularity, with T-shirts, pay toilets and raised room rates.

Wheatley, a gifted storyteller and songwriter, brings too much to this buffet. The production becomes a bit overburdened with subplots, needless narrative asides and a loss of focus. The story needs to be streamlined and simplified, and the number of songs cut.

This is not a polished production, and most of the cast has limited stage experience. What it does offer is a clever perspective on an age-old story, presented with a lot of vim and vigor by an enthusiastic cast.