With their latest production, “It’s a Wonderful Christmas Carol,” written and directed by Ken Parks, with music by Parks and Rick Illes, it’s easy to see why The All American Music Theater and Music Hall was recently honored by Trip Advisor as number one attraction in Long Beach. The script was preternaturally good, as were the performances; and the place was as packed and bristling as Best Buy’s front door at 11:59pm on Thanksgiving Day. The evening felt like a big rumpus room, rife with ruckus, filled with an extended audience-family, which, when you think about it, is the whole point of the holidays.
Not only was the production as-always raucous and fun, in short, entertaining, its timing couldn’t be better: it spoofs dastardly bankers (Here it comes, wait, here it comes: Booyah!). Giving new and outlandish twists to familiar stories (I’m sure the jabs at South Coast Rep’s traditional “A Christmas Carol” are unintentional), it offers the possibility to become a family holiday destination tradition. And why not, when Dickens gets to meet Scrooge, Teeny Tim appears as a wisecracking puppet, Muppets Bert and Ernie make cameo appearances, Clarence the angel joneses for a George Foreman Grill, and, as we suspected all along, we learn that Bob Marley is a Rastafarian An offbeat, joyous ho ho ho indeed.
The script is inventive, funny and well written. Set up like a Christmas triptych, two acts (“HUMBUG or What The Dickens” and “IT’S A BLUNDERFUL LIFE or bye George”) feature the classic tales of the insight through the prism of alternative outcomes. In the former, the contrite Scrooge (Parks) has a come to Jesus moment; in the second, sad sack George Bailey (Matthew Riggle) realizes he has a lot more for which to live than he thinks. Both tales speak of never-too-late gratitude for blessings but, of course, in true Melodrama fashion, the productions undercut piety and pathos with mirth and mayhem, with puerile behavior, booze-fueled or not, the order of the day. I don’t know about you but, to me, the evening feels just like a real Christmas.
Six actors play all the roles. Not only do they nail each character, each also feeds off the packed house. As a result, our laughter flows not from just from their zippy repartee and improvised quips (Unfortunately you can’t see how Parks as Scrooge rebutted a snarky, Scrooge-like Grinchess with “She makes me look good.”) but from the almost-successful efforts of the actors not to bust up themselves. It’s the theatrical equivalent of the gag reel that accompanies DVDs. Amidst the picture perfect back-and-forth timing of this talented (and boisterous), everywhere-at-once ensemble, it’s hard to pick out the quality of individual performances. Still, mention must be made of two Christmas tree stars. Matthew Riggles’s spot on Jimmy Stewart accent captures the spirit of the movie. And Parks’s Bing Martin, the bibulous host of the Theatre’s annual Christmas holiday special olio, is out of this world. Saturated with the Christmas spirit? Pickled is more like it!
Embedded in the jollity is a gift bag of relevance, all of which confirms that Christmas is about love and laughter, family and friends; about not just the humor of difficult times but its absurdity as well. Perhaps economic stimuli won’t begin at home but outlandish fun – a laughter stimulus – most certainly does.
Performances are 7:30 pm Friday, 4:30 and 7:30pm Saturday, and 7:00pm Sunday. No performances on December 24 and 25. Tickets are $14-20. The Theater is located at 429 Shoreline Village Drive, Long Beach. The show runs until January 1. For more information, call (562) 495-5900 or visit www.allamericanmelodrama.com.