By JEAN LOWERISON | Downtown News
Hey, who invited that grumpy old Ebenezer Scrooge to our fair city? What’s he doing making fun of our ball teams and telling those nice charity collectors, the Saint Sisters Gertrude and Prudence, “Tell the Padres you struck out!”?
“Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show” — an awfully long title for a snappy 80-minute show — is in its West Coast premiere through Dec. 29 at The Old Globe’s White Theatre.
The time frame of the beloved Dickens novella has been moved up a few decades, and Scrooge has moved here to make his fortune by serving the financial needs of the city’s Panama-California Exposition.
Playwrights Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen started this whole thing two years ago with an original version in Pennsylvania. Old Globe artistic chief Barry Edelstein saw it there and asked if they could tailor it to San Diego. The answer was yes, and co-playwright Greenberg directs the show here.
Five actors — four playing multiple roles and one playing the old grouch — take advantage of cleverly-designed suggestions of sets and props and a script full of local references to bring the old English story to sunny (well, not so much on the day I’m writing this) San Diego.
Tonight, the local carolers, The Sons of Pitches, have to perform out in the freezing cold because “there isn’t a theater in all of San Diego.”
The skeleton of the Dickens original — the characters and the message of redemption — remain. But this Scrooge has a modern security system (the kind that goes “bloop bloop”) when he settles down (in the “balmy” 44 degrees of his bedroom) to read his favorite book, Scrooge and Marley’s business ledger.
He’s a bit nonplused by the ghosts who visit, but it takes the misfortune of Bob Cratchit’s young son Tiny Tim to change his heart. And that’s what this show is all about.
Because of the performance requirements, it took months to find this remarkable cast. Among them, they play 50 roles — some in rapid succession — in addition to singing, dancing, playing musical instruments and being funny.
Broadway veteran Robert Joy plays Scrooge with plenty of grouch but here, even Scrooge gets some humor. When he is taken to visit his old school, the Burberry Academy for Unloved Boys, he says, “How I’ve missed it: the rain, the sandwiches, the repression.”
Cathryn Wake and local actor Jacque Wilke play wonderfully off each other as the malaprop-prone Saint Sisters, as well as handling several other parts (including one ghost) each. Orville Mendoza plays Bob Cratchit, Marley, Scrooge’s first boss Fezzi (who makes wigs) and others with great panache… and acts as music director. Dan Rosales gets to be Fred, Young Scrooge and Tiny Tim (and operate Tim as a puppet).
Production values are high. Kudos to the tech team: Set designer Adam Koch, for the malleable set with movable doors that lock in or out, and the magically appearing Christmas tree.
David Israel Reynoso designed the costumes — both time appropriate and seemingly easy to get on and off in a hurry. Amanda Zieve and Bart Fasbender contribute fine lighting and sound designs.
The grouchy old guy is back. If you think you’ve seen enough of him, do yourself a favor and see just one more version of the timeless story. This one’s worth it.
“Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show” plays through Dec. 29, 2019, at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park.
Tuesday through Friday at 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 7 p.m. (Some exceptions; check with the theater.)
Tickets: 619-234-5623 or theoldglobe.org
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.