Superb cast puts ‘A Christmas Carol’ through the comedic blender

Lest anyone feel they’re taking themselves too seriously this holiday season or, heaven forbid, stressing over what they spent on Black Friday, it may be time to cast tradition aside and indulge in some seasonal silliness.

A good place to start is at the Aurora Fox, whose production of “Twist Your Dickens” takes “A Christmas Carol” and turns it upside down, then a bit sideways, then departs from it completely in a number of places and, finally, returns home with the traditional conclusion.

More or less.

There’s a trip to the Island of Misfit Toys from “Rudolph,” a stop at “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” a hair-band salute of sorts, and even a hard left into a Shane Company radio spot.

The 2012 script is from The Second City and two former “Colbert Report” writers — Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort — but much of the magic comes from the excellent local cast put together by director Matthew R. Wilson. Leading the pack as Scrooge is Curious Theater regular and Fox first-timer Eric Sandvold. Channeling John Lithgow and with a hearty dollop of irreverence for the stock Scrooge, Sandvold sets the tone when he utters his first “bah humbug!” with exaggerated dramatic effect and works to out-Scrooge Scrooge at every turn.

From there it’s off to the races as the game, inventive cast takes a bumper-cars approach to the script, leaving plenty of room for audience suggestions and interaction, plus local references that take shots at everything from the Denver Center to RiNo hipsters seeking fusion food trucks.

This is a production requiring strong comic actors, and the Fox delivers.

[rev_slider alias="twist"]

Initially portraying Scrooge’s downtrodden sidekick Bob Cratchit, Sean Michael Cummings is a hoot as he delivers every line with a wink and looks for the next opportunity to give Scrooge a zinger.

As the traditional story quickly falls prey to deviations, Seth Palmer Harris makes his appearance from the audience, heckling the players to stay on track and joining the cast as the Ghost of Christmas Past — and many others. Elfin ginger Jessica Austgen is hilarious as Tiny Tim (or just “Tim,” as she asks) and many others, and Ilasiea Gray as Mrs. Cratchit brings a ton of energy to all of the many roles she takes on.

Another standout is Fox newcomer Sara Milbrath, whose recurring turn as a sloshed lounge singer named Ruby is fantastic. I don’t recall exactly how that fit into the “Christmas Carol” theme, but it worked, as did the intrusion of Charlie Schmidt, doing a spot-on Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life” in several scenes.

“Twist Your Dickens” is formatted to allow comic actors maximum leeway to find humor wherever they can. With a good dose of improv, a recognizable tale in the middle and a raft of off-the-cuff cultural references mixed in with Colorado asides, the cast aims to leave no comic stones unturned. The result is a super-fun night of theater where no two shows will be the same and, no doubt, performances will get even better as the cast gels and discovers new paths to explore.

As these things go, not everything hits the mark. The “Rudolph” scene came with some great costumes yet seemed like there should’ve been more comedic juice to squeeze from it. And the “Charlie Brown” bit (also with fun costumes) picked solely on Linus’s proselytizing and left some other potentially rich “Peanuts” lampooning on the table.

But those are script quibbles. “Twist Your Dickens” is everything the title promises, and with a whole set of variations every night, it’ll make for a fun run at the Fox for the holidays.

99 Shares