Playwright: conceived and
adapted by Terry McCabe
At: City Lit Theater at Edgewater Presbyterian Church, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr
Phone: 773-293-3682; $25
Runs through: Dec. 24
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There are fundamentally two kinds of Christmas musical revues: wholesome fa-la-las targeted at children ( tip-off: posters featuring furry animals and the chipmunk song on its playlist ) , and so-called 'adult' nyah-nyah-nyahs targeted at overgrown children ( tip-off: posters featuring grinches and the tune Santa Baby on its playlist ) . For the more intellectually-inclined, however, City Lit author/director Terry McCabe, however, has assembled an anthology of story and song taking a serious—but never gloomy—look at this many-faceted holiday.
The evening's entertainment encompasses such frivolities as Miss Fogarty's Christmas Cake ( an 'Irish' ballad written in 1883 by Pennsylvania Dutch songsmith C. Frank Horn ) and What Did Eve Give Adam For Christmas? ( sung by a white comedian in a 1916 Ziegfeld show, but written by Black composers Henry Creamer and J. Turner Layton ) . Jerome Kern's Dixieland-jazz arrangement of God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen puts a distinctive American spin on the 18th-century Welsh carol, while a rendition of James Pierpont's A One-Horse Open Sleigh ( aka Jingle Bells ) with madrigal harmonies lends an old-world dignity to the familiar classic, and cast member Kingsley Day contributes his own I Remember Christmas, a nostalgic serenade sweet enough to be covered by Barry Manilow.
It's not all music, however. Anchoring the program is a radio play by John Collier and Robert Tallman, Back For Christmas, a shivery tale of a henpecked professor whose plan to murder his wife is undone by the holidays. Flanking this are dramatizations of Edna Ferber's Catching Up With Christmas, L. Frank Baum's Claus Discovers Humanity and O. Henry's venerable Gift Of The Magi, as well as essays by Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, P.G. Wodehouse and, of course, Charles Dickens.
The performance on the first snowy night of 2006 struggled bravely, but did not yet have the confidence necessary to integrate its ambitiously eclectic material into a seamless whole. The four-person ensemble seemed stretched uncomfortably thin. ( Did I mention that they all play instruments in addition to singing, dancing, acting and changing scenery? ) Nevertheless, this world-premiere effort has the potential to provide contemplative theatergoers a refreshing alternative to the plethora of giddy seasonal fare for years to come.