Thursday, December 5, 2013

Millbrook: "A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol"

The Christmas Season is being ushered in across the River Region's theatres, the latest being the Millbrook Community Players' A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol that just ended its two-week run in a packed schedule that includes Frankly Scarlett, You're Dead on the Harriott II riverboat, and a one show only performance of Christmas in Oz planned for December 13.

Walton Jones, David Wohl, and Faye Greenberg collaborated on this nostalgic comedy with music as a sequel to their popular A 1940s Radio Hour, transporting audiences to Christmas Eve 1943 in a radio station in Newark, NJ where a group of actors create their version of Charles Dickens' classic A Christmas Carol, and where we become the live radio station audience who respond to "applause" signs illuminated on cue by a sound-effects Foley artist.

This is a mixed-bag of characters, played by Millbrook's veteran and neophyte actors, and we see them both as the actors and the characters they play in the radio play. And, while the script assumes we are familiar with Dickens, the play can be enjoyed without it. -- There is a snowstorm that keeps the company captive for a while, and some improvising has to be done. We see the connections between the characters and their roles: for example, the grouchy William St. Claire [John Chain] who plays Scrooge changes his demeanor as Dickens' messages strike close to home. -- So it is with others; nothing surprising, but nonetheless entertaining.

Replete with the aforementioned sound-effects [Daniel Harms almost steals the show with his antics in providing them with imaginative "props" -- a folding ironing board that sounds like a squeaking door, for example -- and spot-on timing], and with several on-air advertisements for Lucky Strike cigarettes, BVDs, and Nash-Kelvinator products, we are taken back to another time period. -- And it is at the height of World War II, so there are promos for War Bonds and messages for "our boys overseas" that bring a connection to today's concerns for service men and women in foreign lands.

In keeping with A Christmas Carol, there are several sentimental episodes that touch the heart. Tracy Allgrove as Judith adds her lovely singing voice to a couple of songs that comment on the action. And the rest of the ensemble do valiant work in committing to their roles.

Hindered a bit by the theatre's acoustics and the physical distance between the stage and the audience, these actors must do double duty to keep us engaged.

Still, A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol captures just the right tone for the season, and directors Susan Chain and Stephanie McGuire invite the audience to join in and have a good time in reminiscing.