Big Dawg Productions is into the holiday spirit in a big way with the revival of their evergreen and ever-successful “Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some!)” by James FitzGerald, John K. Alvarez and Michael Carleton. Starring Anthony Lawson, Randy Davis and Steve Vernon, the show is a wonderful send-up of all-things Christmas.
The plot (if it can be called that) revolves around the premise that a small theatre company is staging its annual production of “A Christmas Carol.” Steve gets halfway through the opening monologue when Randy begins a rebellion. He has done “A Christmas Carol” more times than he can count—and he doesn’t want to do it again, not this year! Poor Steve is adamant: Christmas means “A Christmas Carol”!
Unbeknownst to him, theatre is apparently a democracy, and he gets out-voted (or maybe it was the Electoral College that got him—who can tell anymore?). Randy and Anthony hijack his Christmas show, and before the poor man knows what hit him, the three of them are off on an around-the-world tour of Christmas traditions, stories and celebrations. Beginning with a shout-out to the pinnacle of “A Christmas Carol” productions—“The Muppet Christmas Carol,” of course—the show careens through Christmas films and stories, as well as beloved “Christmas specials” of mid-century television fame, and more holiday trivia ever imaginable. It makes for quite an evening of entertainment.
Steve Vernon, Randy Davis and Anthony Lawson give natural and effortless performances. They are clearly having fun, and the audience members they pull onstage for the game-show segment and the re-enactment of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” look like they are going to burst with elation. That’s really the secret to the show: the sheer delight of it all. At intermission the guests next to us got into a heated and heavy contest to identify every holiday reference from the first act. Of course, Vernon’s Scrooge is a crowd-pleaser, with a squint in his eye and pursed lips that make the tight, angry character identifiable in less than a sentence.
Anthony Lawson plays the peacemaker (or maybe instigator) between a Scrooge-like Vernon—who doesn’t believe in Santa Claus—and Randy Davis, who does. The night I was in the audience, one of the audience members pulled up onstage looked like a dead ringer for Edmund Gwenn’s Kris Kringle in “Miracle on 34th St.” Let’s say it made Vernon’s denial of Santa Claus a little more nuanced and complicated. I mean the man was twirling his mustache and “ho hoing” every time Vernon looked at him.
For all of his having to be the fall guy in Act 1, in Act 2 Vernon gets to show off his vocal talents and alternates between finally playing Scrooge and discovering he is simultaneously in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” as George Bailey. Arguably, Jimmy Stewart’s voice is a pretty fun imitation to conjure, but Vernon doesn’t just hit the funny parts of the warble; he also delivers the pathos.
Lawson’s rendition of “The Night Before Christmas” a la Black Friday shopping madness is a perfect example of dramatic interpretation of literature: He lulls us in with the well-timed rhyming jokes that keeps us listening attentively. But by far, “The Singing of the Carols” is where Lawson shines most. His beautiful singing voice resonates in the intimate space of the Cape Fear Playhouse. It is a fun mash-up of hummable Christmas carols.
Randy Davis gets the punchlines of script: wearing the green light-up nose of “Gustave the Green Nosed Rain Goat” (Rudolph is still under copyright) or his pirate shtick for “A Child’s Christmas in W(h)ales.” He can go from deadpan to fully animated in the blink of an eye. For all of his comedic talents, Davis is a gifted dramatic actor. When he gives his rendition of Linus from “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” we could hear a pin drop in the room, then a few scattered sniffles. Maybe that’s what makes the script work so well. Though, it feels like it jumps form one joke to the next, in reality there are some beautiful moments of reflection to remind everyone of the beauty of the holiday season; it’s a balance between reverence the laughter.
For all the light-hearted fun aimed at the world of Christmas entertainment, the actual Christmas story, frequently enacted in church fellowship halls across the Western world this time of year, is not part of the material on the buffet.
Set designer Scott Davis has created a festive holiday wonderland with many props and costume pieces the performers utilize during the evening featured as parts of the decor. Stockings, ribbons, Christmas-tree lights, and hymnals are interspersed with hats for costume changes and three truly inspiring Christmas albums (the cover art alone is worth a second look). In conjunction with lighting designer Donna Lousie Swink (who must bring a combined 150-plus years of theatrical experience to her work), they have upped the ante visually on this show. I especially liked the lighting special to signal Vernon’s many attempts to do “A Christmas Carol.” The overall sense visually is of a giant present wrapped up just for the audience. It really is a festive and and joyous setting—upping the mood for the show and holiday season.
“I’m really glad we came,” my date gushed when we left. “I needed this.”
I did, too.
It feels like the Christmas season really has started. “Every Christmas Story Every Told (And Then Some!)” is a heartwarming way to celebrate the holidays with friends and family.