BWW Review: A 1940s RADIO CHRISTMAS CAROL At The Swift Creek Mill Theatre: A Jolly, Ol' Time... In Real Time!
As "Baby New Year 2019" is healthily days into his/her infancy, there yet remain a few performances of A 1940s RADIO CHRISTMAS CAROL at The Mill to thoroughly appreciate for the entire family.
Moreover, given the bittersweet emotions that accompany most lovers of the departing season as we grudgingly start to pack away our many cherished holiday mementos yet again, the bygone sentimentality infused within A 1940s RADIO CHRISTMAS CAROL feels all the more apparent.
With A 1940s RADIO CHRISTMAS CAROL, set entirely on Christmas Eve within a radio studio nestled in the Hotel Aberdeen in Newark, New Jersey, a "live studio audience" is treated to the antics of a fine cast of radio players, noise-makers, harmonizing warblers, and one classically-trained outsider named William St. Claire (a resounding Bill Blair) in their collective - and amusingly unpredictable - retelling of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol.
With St. Claire taking on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, he is surrounded by a solid cast of Dickensian masqueraders, each of whom conjure individual moments of laughter, song, and tenderness to further beguile the "live studio audience."
PJ Llewellyn, Ian Page, John Mincks, and Kenneth Putnam are particularly hilarious as they effortlessly switch from portraying their characters' everyday personalities into the tones and dialects of personas such as an overly-hacking Tiny Tim, a befuddled Bob Cratchit - even into the absurdly droll incarnations of a cartoonish-sounding Wehrmacht officer or a booming scamp who sounds remarkably like the great Frank Nelson.
Elisabeth Ashby and Tara Callahan Carroll provide strong accents and dulcet vocal work to many of the show's traditional carols and original songs penned by lyricist Faye Greenberg and composer/orchestrator David Wohl; incidentally, Shellie Johnson, A 1940s RADIO CHRISTMAS CAROL'S musical director, doubles in the role of Toots Navarre, the station's pianist and music conductor. The station's General Manager and Announcer, Clifton Feddington, is well-realized by Mike White, while sound engineers Sally Simpson (Claire Gates) and Buzz Crenshaw (Gordon Graham) successfully produce the "live" sound effects - opening/closing doors, shoes traipsing through gravel, ringing bells, etc. - with lightning-quick precision.
Likewise, since this show relies so heavily on the application of sound, Technical Director Jason "Blue" Herbert and Sound Board Operator Sheri Oyan deserve commendations for fitting this ensemble cast with a seamless apparatus of microphones and technical audio instruments.
This production, lovingly directed and stage managed by Tom Width, feels more intrinsic than simply just a play, especially given the "breaking of the fourth wall" concept where we, the audience, are given full encouragement to respond to the illuminating placards of "Laughter" and "Applause" at many periods in the show.
Additionally, playwright Walton Jones, having dovetailed this piece off of his 1979 success that was THE 1940s RADIO HOUR, has laid out a "story within a story" concept presented entirely in real-time.
Put simply: at rise, the ensemble players unceremoniously enter into the studio as we, the audience, ever-so casually become acquainted with them. Soon enough, the radio hour commences and momentarily adjourns for an announced (and actual) intermission. Shortly thereafter, the radio hour recommences and eventually concludes, but not before the radio players nonchalantly say their goodbyes and exit back to their lives outside of the Hotel Aberdeen.
Given these Aristotelian unities, A 1940s RADIO CHRISTMAS CAROL makes for a nifty opportunity to see a uniquely structured piece of theatre.
That and, as the previous holiday season continues to be eclipsed by the toils of a presumably cold and wet January (and the suspicious offset of Valentine's Day merchandise mysteriously popping up everywhere), A 1940s RADIO CHRISTMAS CAROL is an ideal companion piece to the festive traditions of friends, lovers, and families that help aide in the sendoff of a closing year in tandem with the welcoming of a new (and hopefully fortunate) one as well.
A 1940s RADIO CHRISTMAS CAROL plays at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre through January the 5th.