Friday, December 1, 2023

"Scrooge in Rouge" at Open Eye Theatre

Leave it to Open Eye Theatre to bring us a holiday* show that's a little off-kilter, in the best possible way. The three-person musical Scrooge in Rouge reimagines the classic A Christmas Carol in the style of English Music Hall entertainment, meaning "witty lyrics, bad puns, and naughty double-entendres." The fabulous three-person cast portrays all of the characters in this story that hews fairly closely to Dickens' original, even including many of the famous lines you'll hear across town at the Guthrie. But there are a few ridiculous diversions too, resulting in a very entertaining and fun little show. You can see this alternative (or addition) to A Christmas Carol at Open Eye in South Minneapolis through December 30.

The show is done in a tongue-in-cheek fourth-wall-breaking style, as if we're the audience here to see A Christmas Carol at the Music Hall. The three players, all powdered, rouged, and bewigged, tell us that everyone else in the 20-person cast is sick with food poisoning, and therefore they're going to tell the story with just the three of them, plus a piano player (Patrick Adkins). They proceed through the familiar story, with a few (intentionally) missed cues, misplaced props, and other flubs. The show is chock full of groanworthy puns and bawdy jokes, with the cast fully engaged and winking at the audience. 

the players (Neal Skoy, Abilene Olson, and Maren Ward)
(photo by Bruce Silcox)
Open Eye's Artistic Director Joel Sass directs, wringing every last joke out of the script (and there are a lot) with the help of the talented trio of Neal Skoy, Abilene Olson, and Maren Ward. The latter plays Scrooge (and maybe one or two other characters), while the other two take turns narrating and playing every other character in the story. Except Tiny Tim, for whom they recruit an audience member (hint: don't sit on the aisle if you don't want to be pulled on stage, and remember, it is OK to say "no thank you"). Watching the cast scramble to make the quick changes is part of the fun of the show.

Scrooge with the Fezziwigs (Abilene Olson, Neal Skoy,
and Maren Ward, photo by Bruce Silcox)
The songs are like the show itself - clever and silly and fun. Abilene is the only one in the cast I would call a serious singer, and here she uses her incredible instrument for comedy as much as musical gorgeousness (in addition to singing hilariously badly on occasion, which also takes great skill). The other two can carry a tune, and mostly play it for humor. They perform some silly dancing and movement (choreographed by Heidi Spesard-Noble, music direction by Jake Endres).

the Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge his beloved sister
(Neal Skoy, Maren Ward, and Abilene Olson, photo by Bruce Silcox)
Open Eye co-founder Michael Sommers has designed the set, which looks every bit the festive and stately, if a bit run down, English Music Hall. The colorful Victorian costumes cover the gamut of all of the characters, with layers added and removed in quick succession, except when they're not, which is part of the fun too. Even the lighting design (by Bill Healey) gets in on the joke, with characters calling for (and sometimes receiving) changes.

Scrooge in Rouge is a fun new addition to the #TCTheater holiday scene, one that adds a new and wacky twist to a familiar and beloved classic. More belly-aching laugh-inducing than heart-warming, but laughter can keep you warm on a cold night too.

*Read about all of the holiday shows I've seen this year here, and listen to the Twin Cities Theater Bloggers holiday preview episode of our podcast Twin Cities Theater Chat here