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Plenty Of Options, But No Surprises With Sacramento Holiday Shows

  

Christmas shows usually fall into two categories – they’re either naughty, or nice. And above all, they’re almost always familiar.

Sacramento’s B Street Theatre is reviving Buck Busfield’s freestyle adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” a naughty, irreverent spoof which they first produced last year. This show gets right down to business. After an initial blast of sugary music while the lights go down, we come face to face with actor Greg Alexander as a Ebenezer Scrooge, who’s frankly gotten tired of the whole routine.

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Amy Kelly and Greg Alexander In B Street Theatre's "Christmas Carol." B Street Theatre Staff / Courtesy

Scrooge faces the audience and says “Well, here we are, again. Another version of Dickens’ sentimental slop, ‘A Christmas Carol.’ Bored yet? I am! Why does this story, my story, keep getting done again, and again, and again? Why? Because it’s a redemption tale? Because I become a good man? Because it shows that even the most despicable sinner can become pure? Humbug!”

That’s the thesis statement, and what follows is about 70 minutes of impudent variations on this theme, as classic scenes from Dickens are spoofed, with world-weary commentary from Mr. Scrooge. There’s a good deal of interesting physical humor from the energetic cast, and some good humorous wordplay, and I came out of the theater smiling. But it would not be inaccurate to observe that this show delivers most of what it has to say in the first five minutes.

Meanwhile, over at Capital Stage, young actor Ben Ismail is having a field day in “The Santaland Diaries,” a very naughty show based on a famous NPR radio essay by David Sedaris from 1992. It’s all about his surreal experience working seasonally as Crumpet the Elf, herding little kids when they come to meet Santa, and dealing with the stressed out parents. Ismail really gets into the role, like this scene in which he realizes that you can take the letters from the name Santa and arrange them into a name with altogether different connotations.

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Benjamin T. Ismail pictured here for Capital Stage's Santaland Diaries. Charr Crail Photography / Courtesy

Ismail, as Crumpet, said: “You ever notice that Santa is an anagram… for Satan? (Thunderbolt). I imagined a Satan-land, where visitors wade through steaming pools of blood and feces, before arriving at the gates of Hell, where a hideous imp in a singed velvet costume takes children by the hand, and leads them to Satan. Once I thought it, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.”

Think of this show as a sort of vinegar-flavored candy cane… and a lot of adults must like the taste, because theater companies keep reviving this show. What sets this version apart is Ismail’s marvelous performance – he’s young enough that he still recalls the crazy seasonal jobs that 20-somethings will do to get by, and his sardonic vocal delivery is an excellent fit for this material.

The Broadway Sacramento series is bringing in a touring musical, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas,” on December 27th for a six day run. Expect a 1940s feel-good fantasy – about as nice as they come -- involving tap dancers, a handsome guy in uniform just returned from World War II, and a love story, along with classic songs from the 1954 Hollywood film.

White Christmas 122216PBroadway Sacramento's, “Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Broadway Sacramento / Courtesy

You’ll find the kiddies over at the Sacramento Theatre Company, where they’ve revived “Cinderella,” a family-oriented musical with clever songs by Sacramento’s Gregg Coffin. Check out this scene involving a goofy character named Buttons and a very tall bear that wanders silently onto the stage. Keep in mind that Buttons has asked the kids to call out loudly if they see anyone going after Buttons’ special painting, which of course he has left out in the open for all to see.

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The cast of Sacramento Theatre Company's Cinderella is pictured here. Charr Crail Photography / Courtesy

Buttons turns to the audience and says “Hi, kids! Was someone messing with my painting? I don’t see anyone… (The kids enthusiastically call “Behind you!”) Are you sure? Are you teasing me” (The bear waves to the kids.)

Not many surprises, and it does get a teeny bit naughty, like when Little Bo Peep’s lambs bump and grind and tell you that they’re “b-a-a-a-a-d.” But this year’s model is honestly fun to watch, particularly if you attend a matinee and meet a cute second-grader dressed like a princess with a tiara, whose parents have brought her to see the show.

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Jeff Hudson

Contributing Arts Reporter and Theatre Critic

Jeff Hudson has been contributing arts-related stories to Capital Public Radio since 1995, with an emphasis on theater and classical music. He attends over 100 performances annually, ranging from modern musicals to medieval masses.   Read Full Bio