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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Twist Your Dickens
Phoenix Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's recent reviews of The Herd, The Velveteen Rabbit, A Christmas Story, The Musical, Anthony Rapp in Concert, A Very Hairy Javelina Holiday, and Anything You Hear and Only Half of What You See

David Dickinson and Robert Kolby Harper
Photo by Reg Madison Photography / Phoenix Theatre
It may be 60 degrees outside in December but you can still find multiple theatrical versions of A Christmas Carol here in the Phoenix area. However, if you're looking for a different spin on Charles Dickens' classic tale, Phoenix Theatre presents the local premiere of Twist Your Dickens, a holiday show that is part satire, part sketch comedy, and a complete joy. Featuring some of Phoenix's best local actors it is a hilarious, irreverent parody that is a mash up of the classic tale of Scrooge with modern comical references and a dose of ad lib.

The show was written by Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, who both wrote for TV's "The Colbert Report," and developed by Chicago's famous Second City comedy improve troupe. The basic plot still follows Dickens' familiar tale of redemption as the miserly Scrooge is visited by three ghosts who make him see the errors of his ways leading to a change for the better. Interspersed throughout are characters and symbols from other classic Christmas stories that comment and expand on the Scrooge story. These include George Bailey from It's a Wonderful Life, the misfit toys from the TV special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and the Peanuts gang from "A Charlie Brown Christmas."

The script is a smart parody that not only sends up the well-known story of Scrooge but also adds references to such current events as fracking and recent familiar phrases like Donald Trump's "bad hombres." The Scrooge tale does get left behind at times, especially in the second act where things meander a bit with moments that don't quite mesh, including the "lost scene" from the Charlie Brown holiday special and a series of song snippets from the recording session of a drunken lounge singer's Christmas album where she screws up the lyrics. Fortunately, there are many more moments that hit than those that miss and even the misses don't last long.

Director Matthew Wiener keeps the hilarity and hijinks at a fever pitch with his well-oiled cast of seven who portray dozens of characters via some split second costume changes that add to the fun. While Robert Kolby Harper is the only one who doesn't play multiple roles, his take on Scrooge is superb and full of nuance; he even includes a bit of drama beneath his many comic moments. Harper also busts some mean, and utterly hilarious, dance moves.

If there is a downside or unevenness to the show beyond the few comic bits that misfire it is that the male cast members get the biggest parts to play and more to do than the women. Beside Harper, the talented men in the cast include David Dickinson, who portrays Scrooge's employee Cratchit with a hilarious combination of sunny disposition and outright fear; Gene Ganssle, who makes both a perfect George Bailey and adds moments of levity as an outraged audience member; and Kyle Sorrell, who is superb as both Tiny Tim and the Ghost of Christmas Past. While the men get the biggest parts, the three women in the cast still have plenty of hilarious cameo bits which they deliver with ease and a breakneck speed as they quickly jump in and out of character. Cathy Dresbach, Kate Haas, and Maren Maclean excel in making these numerous parts utterly hilarious.

Like the show, Douglas Clarke's simple but smart set design and Gail Wolfenden-Steib's costumes are a perfect blend of the Dickensian period and modern times with plenty of fun comical touches. The lush lighting design by Daniel Davisson creates some beautiful, and funny, images and Tyler Weldon's props deliver some big laughs.

There are several adlibbed moments in the show where the cast members take suggestions from the audience and incorporate them into a few scenes and a song. I also highly recommend that, if you are asked in the lobby before the show to fill out a slip of paper and divulge your most regrettable misdeed, you do so with no regrets just to see how it will be incorporated into the evening.

While not every bit works, this is still a very funny show that delivers some big laughs due to the very game cast who are up for anything and the clear direction that keeps things moving at a fever pitch. With sheer lunacy and extreme dedication, the incredibly talented cast of Phoenix Theatre's Twist Your Dickens make this send up of Christmas classics into zany fun for the holidays.

Twist Your Dickens runs through December 24th, 2016, at the Phoenix Theatre at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling (602) 254-2151

Written by Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort
Director: Matthew Wiener
Scenic Design: Douglas Clarke
Resident Dramaturge/Dialect Coach: Pasha Yamotahari Costume Design: Gail Wolfenden-Steib
Lighting Design: Daniel Davisson
Sound Design: Christopher Neumeyer
Properties Designer: Tyler Weldon

Cast: (in alphabetical order)
David Dickinson
Cathy Dresbach*
Gene Ganssle*
Kate Haas
Robert Kolby Harper*
Maren Maclean*
Kyle Sorrell

*Member of Actors' Equity Association

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