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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

It's Christmas Time in New Jersey
Part 3: 1. Still More Dickens, Sort of / 2. Additional Suggestions

Also see Part 1 and Part 2

Humbug
Rita Rehn and Jordan Simmons
Humbug is a pleasant updated version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol set in a Wall Street office building and featuring Eleanor Scrooge and her female amanuensis, Bobbie Scrooge. Adaptor-director John Wooten has nicely shaped his fast-paced and lively conceit into a 75-minute, one act, two scene play while finding clever modern day equivalents for most of Dickens' characters and situations, and even adding a principal thread of his own.

Eleanor Scrooge is a ruthless, opportunistic investment banker. Her attitude is nicely expressed thusly, "If Mr. Kringle was my client, I'd advise him to ditch the elves, eat the deer and have the toys made in China." She tells collectors for a Manhattan homeless support group, "It's bad enough that there are beggars; now we have beggar's beggars." The long suffering Bobbie Cratchit is a divorced mother whose HMO does not cover the operation which her son Timmy needs in order to survive.

Humbug is bright, straightforward and without cobwebs. All the suffering and misery depicted by Dickens in the visits of the Christmas Ghosts are given updated equivalents, and the silent Ghost depicting the future is costumed like Darkman and identified as The Angel of Death. However, all of this is presented in a straightforward, brisk manner. There is no attempt to imbue the proceedings with the sense of brooding, deep sorrow and fear which are central to Dickens' original novella. Consequently, the happiness which results from Eleanor Scrooge's transformation is pleasant rather than cathartic. In fact, as Eleanor distributes her largess ($1,000 each to the three carolers to sing their Christmas carols), it feels as if the recipients of her munificence are made happy because their acquisitive desires are being fulfilled. Her gift of a Wii and even her presentation of a blank check to pay for Timmy's operation kind of makes us appreciate the benefits of Wall Street earned affluence.

Rita Rehn is a believable, nicely restrained, comic Queen of Mean as Ms. Scrooge. Rehn adds a nice bit of shading to the Eleanor of Christmases past. Jordan Simmons blends poignancy and comedy to deliver an especially winning portrayal of Bobbie. Many in the cast play multiple roles. Matthew DeCapua, Andrea Bianchi, Lacey Jones and Tommy Kouten make especially strong contributions among the strong, large cast. As director, John Wooten has delivered an efficient, unfussy, well played production. However, The Asian Ghost of Christmas Past should lose the stereotypical eyeglasses and squint, and Mistlehouse (about to lose the family business to Eleanor) should lose the comic Brooklyn accent. Even if his successful businessman forbearer moved the family from Kalamazoo to the East, he would never pronounce word "woird."

Despite the bright cleverness of John Wooten's update, there is not enough sinew here to make Humbug a standout in the very crowded field of A Christmas Carol adaptations. As Humbug plays (and is titled) like a musical theatre update of the Dickens novella minus the music and lyrics, I could not help but think that the addition of a quality original score might well turn this pleasant and clever diversion into something more special. Still in all, Humbug is surely pleasant, bright Christmas entertainment for the entire family.

Humbug continues performances through December 22, 2007 at Premiere Stages, in residence at the Wilkins Theatre at Kean University, 1000 Morris Ave., Union, NJ. 07083, Box Office: 908-737-SHOW (7469); online: www.kean.edu/premierestages.

Humbug, based on the story A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens; adapted and directed by John Wooten

Cast

Eleanor Scrooge…………………………………..Rita Rehn
Bobbie Cratchit………………………….Jordan Simmons
Caroler 1/Tess/Present…………………...Andrea Bianchi
Caroler 2/Tug/Bill………………………...Shabazz Green
Caroler 3/Ellie/Lisa……………………...Susanna Harris
Caroler 4/Past/Juan……………………………....Jon Hoche
Mistlehouse/Robert/Gravedigger………………Jason Marr
Phil…………………………………...Matthew Decapua
Sarah…………………………………………..Lacey Jones
Ben……………………………………………...Jeff Ronan
Marley/Benson……………………Alan Lewis Rickman
Young Phil/Timmy……………………….Tommy Kouten
Carla/Nellie………………………………...Emma Gordon
The Angel of Death…………………………..Robert Cole

Photo: Mike Peters


Additions to Round-up of Christmas Season Theatre in New Jersey:

There are two additional adaptations of A Christmas Carol on the boards in New Jersey. Although not reviewed here this season, the McCarter Theatre (at Princeton University) has been presenting for the past decade its elaborate "new" production of David Thompson's excellent adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. With an especially lovely scenic production by Ming Cho Lee, this most worthy McCarter production is one of the best stage adaptations of this work that I have ever seen. It can be seen through December 23.


The Tri State Actors Theatre in Sussex is presenting its own A Christmas Carol in Sussex, New Jersey. The adaptation is by Christopher Schario. While this theatre has not been covered here, it can be noted that this is the only presentation of this beloved story in northwest New Jersey and offers a rare opportunity in the area for a family theatrical experience through December 30.


At the southern tip of the state on the New Jersey shore, the Cape May Stage is presenting its annual Christmas show, Every Christmas Story Ever Told. In addition to a plethora of Christmas stories, this show features talking snowmen and "zany" audience participation. It will be performing through December 30.


The New Jersey Ballet production of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker at the Paper Mill Playhouse is a large scale holiday production featuring a cast of over ninety performers, extensive sets and the Paper Mill orchestra. When I saw this production several years back, I found that it was nicely danced and choreographed. It can certainly be recommended to families that would like to see a quality Nutcracker, and are averse to the added expense and effort of traveling to Lincoln Center to see its quintessential version. The Nutcracker performs at Paper Mill through December 30.


Be sure to Check the current schedule for theatre in New Jersey


- Bob Rendell



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