Monday, December 13, 2010

A Scrooge a Day

‘Tis the season of dueling ‘Messiahs,’ battling Claras and Scrooge-a-Palooza, a trinity of choral concerts, ballets and plays around the winter holidays that serve as a kind of artistic eggnog, the comfort food of creative expression at Christmastime. The Chorus of Westerly, which performed the region’s first concert of Handel’s “Messiah” just before Thanksgiving, editing the masterwork from its 2-1/2 hour running time to 75 minutes of highlights, sent out a press release with the following note:

In December, when The New York Times lists holiday musical performances, there is an entire section entitled: "Messiah and other oratorio performances."

And it’s true. There are "Messiahs" wherever you look. Scores of them, in churches and colleges and community chorales throughout Rhode Island, from Brown University’s orchestrated production to the sing-it-yourself-"Messiahs" at the Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd (Jan. 2) in Kingston and the First Baptist Church (Jan. 9) in Wickford.

But one might just as easily publish a calendar with listings for dance and theater that reads:
“'Nutcracker’ and other ballets” and “'A Christmas Carol’ and other plays.”

Rhode Island “Nutcrackers” range from the Festival Ballet of Providence version at PPAC to the lavish staging at Rosecliff Mansion in Newport to Rhode Island Youth Theatre’s “Madeleine Meets The Nutcracker” in East Greenwich. The New York Times recently ran a piece titled “'Nutcracker’ Nation: Yes We Can!,” chronicling Alastair Macaulay’s quest to see two dozen productions of “The Nutcracker” across America. One in Washington, D.C., set in a Georgetown mansion, featured Miss Liberty and John Paul Jones in the company of Drosselmeyer’s dancing dolls and staged Act II in a dreamscape of the Potomac “with female cherry blossoms dancing the Waltz of the Flowers.”

“A Christmas Carol” is the annual cash-cow staple at Trinity Rep in Providence. But they’re also playing the Dickens out of it in East Greenwich (The Academy Players at the Varnum Armory), Cranston (The Black Box Theatre at The Artists’ Exchange), Woonsocket (Encore Repertory Company at the Stadium Theatre) and Westerly (The Granite Theatre, where artistic director David Jepson performs all of the roles in a one-man show).

Like the Ghosts of Christmas Past, every year Handel, Tchaikovsky and Dickens come back to haunt the hallowed performance halls of Rhode Island. No doubt one day, for sheer convenience, the works of all three artists willl be combined into one festive event.: “The NutMessCarol.” Scrooge is redeemed, waking on a snowy Christmas morning to the sound of the Sugar Plum Fairy and the Nutcracker Prince singing the “Hallelujah” chorus, while Tiny Tim marries Clara, Marley’s Ghost dances the pas de deux with the Snow Queen, and the Cratchits welcome the angel Clarence, the Little Drummer Boy, Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, Heat Miser, Snow Miser and all the boys and girls of Whoville to their humble home.

This week’s question: What turns you into a Grinch?