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A CurtainUp Review
Ken Roht's Route 99 Orange Star Dinner Shoe & Christmas O'Carol -- Dickens in the Celtic Spirit

Editor's Note: Readers in New York and London may want to check out my list of New York shows with emphasis on family fare -- 2005 Holiday shows in Manhattan and Lizzie Loveridge's roundup of London Pantomines & Christmas Shows.

br>The weird, wild and wonderful variety of Christmas in Los Angeles is evident on a weekend that swings from an Irish version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol at the Celtic Arts Center to Route 99 Orange Star Dinner Show at The Evidence Room.

Route 99 Orange Star Dinner Show
The 99 Cents Only Stores are the real stars of the annual productions by "surrealist song and dance auteur" (to quote the program) Ken Roht. Every Christmas since 2002 the somewhat bemused executives of the 99 Cents Only Stores have lent their name and some assets to this inimitable hour-long extravaganza. The front part of the theatre's versatile space becomes a dinner theatre and those daring diners get to be part of the show. Viewers only sit in conventional theatre seats behind them with a large video screen on the stage's back wall to ensure nobody misses anything. The raucous and rambunctious event is set in Wyoming this year, with cowboys and cowgirls clothed in plastic tablecloths made into dresses and chaps and decorated with utensils, paper bows and all the wonderful plastic household goods on display at the stores.

The plot, such as it is, centers around Mama (Laurel Meade) and her three kids, Orange Star (Michael Dunn), Green Clover (Jabez Zuniga) and Yellow Moon (Joe Fria). Green, in female drag, was born Blue, a boy, but Mama always dreamed of having an all-girl trio like The Andrews Sisters and raised him as a girl. Her only daughter Orange Star is played by a man in drag. Yellow Moon ruins Mama's plans by being born a boy.

The production has the feeling of that merry old Land of Oz when Dorothy drops in, crossed with the inevitable tribute to musical comedy. Show tunes, such as "The Impossible Quest", are gamely performed by Ian Rotundo as Corky, Orange Star's Junior Troubadour. At one point, Kirk Wilson as Florence, the Maitre D (it should really be Mistress D, to be artistically consistent) shoves little Corky into a garbage pail and hauls him off stage, reminiscent of the hook used in old time vaudeville.

Nobody seems to care whether all the voices are good, though some are. Laurel Meade is a classic belter as Mama and Don Oscar Smith is downright soothing singing "Happy Chappy. " The cast includes men, women and men in drag, cheerfully cross-dressing and gender-bending. Rousing numbers bracket the show, opening with "Why Oh Why, Wyoming" and closing with "This Land Is My Home" followed by a wonderful Western medley pillaging every show tune from Oklahoma to "They Called The Wind Maria"." But the show's real tribute to the holiday season celebrates conspicuous consumerism on a 99-cent scale, demonstrating how much fun can be had with outrageous behavior, plastic table cloths and a surrealist song and dance auteur.
Writer/Director/Choreographer/Co-Composer: Ken Roht
Co-Composer/Arranger: John Ballinger
Musical Director: Graham Jackson
Cast: Michael Dunn (Orange Star), Jabez Zuniga (Green Clover), Joe Fria (Yellow Moon), Laurel Meade (Mama), Ensemble: Graham Jackson, Don Oscar Smith, Michael Bonnabel, Raul Clayton Staggs, Don Allen, Tad Coughenour, Patty Cornell, Shannon Ggem, Elizabeth Guilliams, Angela Kang, Ben Hall, Jennifer Moyse, Ryan Templeton, Beth Mack, Kirk Wilson
Set Design: Keith Mitchell
Lighting Design: Bosco Flanagan
Costume Design: Ann Closs-Farley
Sound Design: Chris Grote
Wig Design: Mark Crowell
Video Design: David Lee Kelting
Running Time: One hour, no intermission
Running Dates: December 1-18, 2005
Where:.The Evidence Room, 2220 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, Ph: (213) 381-7118.
Tickets: $25 with dinner, $15 without.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on December 4.
Extended for added 1/05 to 1/29 run!

Christmas O'Carol
You might wonder why The Celtic Arts Center Theatre would choose to adapt Charles Dickens' classic from their ancient enemy England as their holiday entertainment. The producers and adapters, Dan Conroy, Dan Harper and Michael Sean McGuinness, note in the program that many holiday traditions were pre-Christian in their origin. That's why instead of Mr. Fezziwig's ball we see groups of lads in straw hats who go from house-to-house performing "mumming" plays in which a hero is killed by a villain and resurrected.

The play opens with a Traveler visiting the house of Ebenezer Scruasha in Dublin. There's an Irish legend that in winter Celtic spirits visit individuals and test them for their generosity. The adapters use the Traveler as a framing device who, in lyric Irish imagery of fields and streams, paints a picture of this beautiful land and the need for those who inhabit it to love and share it. Scruasha is having none of this and the story then follows the traditional Dickens tale, with Gaelicized name changes and a few Irish seasonal tunes.

Running only an hour, it skimps on many of the scenes that make Carol so memorable, particularly those involving children. The waif-like charm of Cinnamon Hoobler as Wee Tom and Child Scruasha has little chance to make itself felt. However, the cast is so good and Dan Conroy's dramatic choices so deft that it's excusable in a viewer to want more.

Michael Sean McGuinness and Kacey Camp as Tom Kearney and his wife (the Bob Cratchitts in the original) ground the lives of this unforgettable family, particularly Mrs. K's anger at toasting Scruasha in the dinner scene. Tom's fear of losing his job in the following scene is particularly poignant in this era of lay-offs. The Ghost of Christmas Future is depicted as the giant black crow called the Morrigan in Irish mythology, a goddess figure associated with fear of the future. This creature on stilts in black draperies looms over a quivering Scruasha, as he watches rag-pickers paw over the clothes and bedclothes stolen from his deathbed by his housekeeper. Eugene Boles finds both the dour death and joyous resurrection of Ebenezer Scruasha. Mark Tracy vividly portrays both a slyly delicious Celtic spirit as The Traveler and the ravaged ghost of Scruasha's partner Hurley. Patrick Rafferty ebulliently plays young Scruasha and Dan Harper gives the Ghost of Christmas Present robust charm

Traditional Irish holiday songs thread the show and there aren't enough of them either, particularly since the cast have fine voices. Conroy's production design uses the textures and colors of clothes hung on pegs against the back wall to give warmth and interest to the tiny stage whose few pieces of furniture miraculously morph into many different places. Russell Boast's subtle lighting design deepens the concept.

It's hard to find a new reason to see A Christmas Carol but the Celtic adaptation provides just the right excuse and as a reminder of the solid charms of this familiar piece.

Adapted from the Charles Dickens novella by Dan Conroy and Michael Sean McGuinness. Adaptation concept by Dan Harper. Director: Dan Conroy
Cast: Eugene Boles (Ebenezer Scruasha), Kacey Camp (Ghost of Christmas Past, Mrs. Kearney), Dan Harper (Ghost of Christmas Present, Fitzwater), Cinnamon Hoobler (Wee Tom, Child Scruasha), Michael Sean McGuinness (Tom Kearney), Carolyn Palmer (Betsy, Ghost of Christmas Future), Patrick Rafferty (Young Scruasha, Frank), Elizabeth Robinson (Fiona, Brigid), Mark Tracy (The Traveler, Hurley), Joey Abarta (Bodhran, Whistle, Big Head), Melanie Nolley, Chris Loken (Fiddlers)
Production Design: Dan Conroy
Lighting Design: Russell Boast
Costume Design: Kacey Camp
Choreography: Elizabeth Robinson
Running Time: One hour, no intermission
Running Dates: December 2-23, 2005.
Where:.The Celtic Arts Center, 4843 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Studio City, Ph: (818) 760-8322.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on December 2.

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