New traditions are built on old traditions. Take the Grinch. He doesn't get visited by Christmas ghosts, but he has much in common with Charles Dickens' miser. In his cave overlooking Whoville, he hates present-giving and other seasonal signs of peace and generosity. It probably doesn't even warm his heart that he's as much a part of the holidays now as Ebenezer Scrooge.
New Orleans has its own collection of burlesque holiday stories, including René Piazza's A Christmas Carol — The Whole Story at Actor's Theatre of New Orleans, Grenadine McGunkle's Double-Wide Christmas and more recently, Ricky Graham's comic turns on Dickens', Scrooge in Rouge! Graham created the gender-bending, quick-change pandemonium with help from costars Jeffery Roberson (aka Varla Jean Merman), Yvette Hargis and composer Jefferson Turner.
The subtitle of the show is "A British Music Hall Christmas Carol/ Somewhat loosely based on the idea of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens." A modest set of Victorian accents like white wainscoting, some sconces and a bit of fabric are the only understated parts of the production. The story is a show within a show as a cast of 20 prepares to perform at Her Majesty's Promenade Grand Theatre at All-Saints-On-The-Wash in Blackpool. But most of the cast falls ill and an irrepressible, inexhaustible threesome (Graham, Roberson and Hargis) decide to play all the roles themselves. Turner wrote the 20 or so tunes and accompanied them on the piano. All three performers — individually and in various combinations — sang well and put the numbers over with brio and insouciance.
Music hall entertainment implies a kind of nuttiness, and this show did not disappoint. Both the players and the audience enjoyed themselves to the hilt — even when the hit-or-miss humor veered far from Victoriana, as when one character suggested to another: "Why don't you slip into something comfortable, like a coma." And what is one to make of Christmas spirits whose arrival is promised in "three to seven working days." No pun was too cheesy to pass on. Even the most malodorous wordplay sometimes got a laugh — like the promise made apropos of the ghost of a famous Native American princess: "Don't worry, my dear, this year I won't let Poca-haunt-us!"
Graham wrote the lyrics as well as the book. His lyrics often had a Tin Pan Alley ingenuity.
Costume designer Cecile Casey Covert offered many delightful creations to suit the large number of parts and fast changes by the small number of players. Amanda Hebert gets credit for the many imaginative wigs. Su Gonczy designed the lighting, and Blake Coheley choreographed the show.
It's hard to imagine Scrooge in Rouge! performed by anyone other than this trio of talented locals, but the satire attracted the notice of two far away theaters last year. Both the Diversionary Theatre in San Diego and the ReVision Company in Asbury Park, N.J., mounted Scrooge in Rouge! as their Christmas offerings this year. — Dalt Wonk