On ‘Broadway,’ a ‘Carol’ sendup at Pa. Playhouse
Rody Gilkeson admits there’s quite a bit of his father in “A Broadway Christmas Carol,” the holiday show opening Nov. 30 at The Pennsylvania Playhouse, Bethlehem.
Gilkeson is directing the zany musical comedy described as “Scrooge meets ‘Forbidden Broadway,’ the latter a popular Off-Broadway revue that pokes fun at musical theater.
However, Gilkeson says “A Broadway Christmas Carol” is first and foremost the story of Scrooge’s redemption.
“This is a kind of an insane show,” he says. “But it has the same feel-good ending.”
Gilkeson says when he was growing up, watching the 1951 British movie adaptation starring Alastair Sim of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” with his father became a family tradition around the holidays.
“To this day, that version is my favorite,” says Gilkeson.
“A Broadway Christmas Carol” approaches Charles Dicken’s classic story in a slightly skewed way. The scenes are strung together with parodies of 32 Broadway show tunes from “Oklahoma!” to “Avenue Q.”
Gilkeson says the parodies reminded him of Spike Jones, a bandleader who did satirical arrangements of popular songs from the early 1940s to mid-1950s.
“My dad loved Spike Jones and the way he would take a song and do something crazy with it to make it funny,” Gilkeson says. “More and more of my father’s love of this type of thing kept being brought into play with ‘A Broadway Christmas Carol.’”
There are only four cast members in the Playhouse’s “A Broadway Christmas Carol” production.
Bob Calder plays Ebenezer Scrooge.
Nikola Georgeveski plays the “man who isn’t Scrooge,” stepping into roles ranging from Tiny Tim to Bob Cratchit to the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Sarah Pellegrini plays the “woman who isn’t Scrooge” and tackles all the female roles in the show from Mrs. Crachit to Mrs. Fezziwig.
Bill Whitney is the piano player who accompanies all the songs and performs a couple of his own songs.
Gilkeson says the musical wasn’t originally on the Playhouse schedule but when another show fell through, it was added as a replacement. The musical had been done twice before, in 2008 and 2011, at the Playhouse.
“When I heard about it I put up my hand,” Gilkeson says. “I thought it sounded like ‘Forbidden Broadway’ and I love ‘Forbidden Broadway.””
The show is just 1½ hours long, “perfect for the busy holidays,” Gilkeson says. “It’s a pretty fast piece.”
He says songs that are parodied include “We’re in the Money” from “Golddiggers;” “Put On a Happy Face” from “Bye Bye Birdie” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Ballad of Sweeney Todd.”
Other shows that have songs parodied include “Phantom of the Opera,” “Annie,” “Gypsy,” “My Fair Lady” and “Les Miserables.”
“We’re really having a lot of fun with it,” Gilkeson says. “They are using different voices with each character. They are really doing yeoman’s work.”
He says the set by Brett Olivierais is traditional, recreating the office of Scrooge and Marley, Scrooge’s bedroom and the Crachits’ home on the Playhouse’ black box-style stage.
Gilkeson says he is patterning this production after the Playhouse’s 2008 minimalist production directed by the late Ralph Montesano.
“It’s pretty stripped down,” Gilkeson says. “It’s an actor’s piece more than anything else. The show works well. Just keep it simple.”
Music direction is by Julius Sarkozy and choreography is by Joey Schubert, who just choreographed the playhouse’s “Crazy For You.”
Gilkeson says costume designer Mary Catherine Bracali is working overtime with all the costume changes in the show. The show opens with actors in formal wear and then transitions to the Victorian style usually associated with the show.
“A Broadway Christmas Carol,” is 7:30 p.m. Nov. 30, Dec. 1, 7, 8, 13-15, and 3 p.m. Dec. 9, 16. Tickets: Pennsylvania Playhouse Box Office, 390 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem; paplayhouse.org; 610-865-6665.