Ebenezer Scrooge has been recast as an embittered woman named Evelyn and moved to a New York City sweatshop in this delightfully irreverent take on the Dickens classic by Arlington, Va.’s Signature Theater.
Signature’s a.d., Eric Schaeffer, has staged an enormously appealing new musical inventively adapted by resident playwright Norman Allen. It gives the Christmas staple a decidedly American twist by locating it in New York’s Lower East Side circa 1911, the infamous melting pot where squalor and brutal working conditions rivaled those of Victorian London. They added a nice mix of period music from the likes of George M. Cohan and Victor Herbert — all of it in the public domain.
The magnificently dreary tenement street set is by Lou Stancari. A large door from which Ms. Scrooge makes her entrance is near the middle, while the spinster’s spartan office is dominated by an imposing safe. All is showcased perfectly by Chris Lee’s imaginative lighting, which enhances numerous special effects, like the dramatic appearance of each Christmas ghost.
Allen’s script keeps the essential story intact, tweaking the familiar tale with just the right touches of sarcasm and gentle humor. For example, the Ghost of Christmas Past is an ill-tempered, Yiddish-spouting woman (Chrystyna Dail) while Christmas Present (Eleasha Gamble) is a black gospel singer, eager to wail. Tiny Tim is a grownup actor waiting for his break.
The music is varied and engaging. The show opens with the song “The Streets of New York,” from Herbert and Henry Blossom’s operetta “The Red Mill,” followed by Cohan’s paean to greed, “Then I’d Be Satisfied With Life,” which becomes the running theme. The tone is enlivened by Herbert’s “If I Were on Stage” and “Where Did Robinson Crusoe Go With Friday on Saturday Night?” by the team of George W. Meyer, Sam Lewis and Joe Young. Washingtonian Howard Breitbart arranged the numbers, some of which are exploited by Karma Camp’s engaging choreography.
Signature co-founder and local favorite Donna Migliaccio heads an expert cast as the conniving, cold-hearted proprietor. Migliaccio’s menacing bellow of “Cratchit!” is guaranteed to make the audience both squirm and chuckle.
Others in the cast play several roles in a sure scramble of costume changes. Steven Cupo has a ball playing a camped-up version of Fezziwig, and Rachel Gardner is on target as both Anne Cratchit and the young Evelyn. Wendell Jordan does a convincing turn as the oppressed Bob Cratchit and Alyson Hansell’s beautiful soprano voice is given a brief but impressive moment. Will Gartshore is polished as the suitor spurned by Scrooge.