The Cary Players’ current production of A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol, which closes tonight, is a bit of what we call today, a mash-up. It is an homage to radio during the war years as well as a play-within-a-play and a comedy within a drama. Unfortunately, only 10 years after its debut, it is also somewhat dated.
The play takes place on Christmas Eve in 1943, in a rundown radio station in Newark, New Jersey, where a theatrical troupe is putting on a version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. There is a special guest performer with a bit of baggage, which is only one of the unexpected events threatening to derail the production. This musical comedy was written by Walton Jones and contains music by David Wohl and lyrics by Faye Greenberg.
I must commend the director, Randy Jordan, as this play has nearly the entire cast of 15 all on the stage for the entirety of the performance. Even when not speaking, most of the cast members are moving, pantomiming, emoting, and performing. It was mostly done in a surprisingly fluid and coherent way. I was more worried about missing something than being distracted.
The actors as well, had an uphill climb as the frenetic story required many of them to play a part of someone playing a part and, in many cases, many parts simultaneously. They also had to be both in and out of character as the parts portrayed a performance that rarely went according to plan.
Particularly adept at this was Chris McKittrick as Clifton Feddington, the emcee and narrator of the radio production of A Christmas Carol. He demonstrated the appropriate amount of panic, composure, and leadership expected from the boss. Dan Martschenko was also outstanding as washed-up actor William St. Claire, who plays Ebenezer Scrooge.
My other two favorite performances were by Charles Robson as Buzz Crenshaw and Rhonda Lemon as Sally Simpson. This pair had the added duties as working as the Foley Artists for the show-within-a-show. In addition to acting as multiple characters, they also provided an amazing variety of sound effects. Kudos to props master Christian O’Neal for digging up an amazing array of vintage sound devices.
Even with all of these positives, I have several issues with the material that this fine crew had to work with. This show is set 75 years ago. Even if you were glued to the radio shows of the early 1940s at age 10, you would be 85-years-old today. The nostalgia would be lost on most people.
For the first three-fourths of the show, it wasn’t funny enough as a comedy, historical enough as a nostalgia piece, or dramatic enough as a story. When a seriously delivered dramatic scene finally did arrive, it was immediately followed by 10 minutes of absolute slapstick, which really killed the mood for me. Most disturbing was the inclusion during this stretch of some extremely inappropriate “Nazi humor.” I place this in quotes as the expression contains two words that should never be linked.
I laud the Cary Players for their talent and efforts, but I would have a hard time recommending this particular performance to anyone I know.
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 29th Cary, NC Cary Citizen preview by Michael Papich: http://carycitizen.com/2018/11/29/cary-players-perform-twist-on-a-christmas-carol/.
The Cary Players present A 1940S RADIO CHRISTMAS CAROL at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at the Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Ave., Cary, North Carolina 27511.
TICKETS: $20 ($18 students and seniors 55+), except $17 per person for groups of 8 or more. BOX OFFICE: 800-514-3849 or https://www.etix.com/.
GROUP RATES (8+ tickets): Purchase in person at the Cary Downtown Theatre Box Office, 122 E. Chatham St. Cary, NC 27511, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
SHOW: http://caryplayers.org/shows/a-1940s-radio-christmas-carol/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/307984593121626/.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.facebook.com/randy.jordan.7/videos/pcb.10218047549519107/10218047540518882/?type=3&theater.
2018 SEASON: http://caryplayers.org/season/current-season/.
PRESENTER: http://www.caryplayers.org/, https://www.facebook.com/CaryPlayers, https://twitter.com/CaryPlayers, and https://www.youtube.com/user/CaryPlayers/videos.
VENUE: http://www.townofcary.org/departments/parks__recreation___cultural_resources/facilities/cultural_arts_centers/caryartscenter.htm, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cary-Arts-Center/235735853122351, and http://www.caryplayers.org/cary-arts-center/.
A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol (2008 musical comedy): https://www.samuelfrench.com/p/868/a-1940s-radio-christmas-carol/ (Samuel French Inc.).
Randy Jordan (Raleigh, NC director): https://www.facebook.com/randy.jordan.7 (Facebook page).
Robert O’Connell is new to the Triangle, but not to the stage. As a playwright, he has had dozens of productions and awards throughout the world. He has an MS degree in Management Systems Analysis. A lifelong educator, O’Connell has also published three novels at http://www.flashmobthenovel.com/ and two humor anthologies from his blog, https://thesmartestguyiknow.wordpress.com/. He and his wife have settled in Cary, NC. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.