‘Twist Your Dickens,’ ‘Elf’ at opposite ends of holiday fare

Shows are among theater productions marking the season in metro area

Posted 12/4/18

The past week led us to two of many local theatrical holiday celebrations — one for families and the other clearly for grownups—and the metro area theaters offer a range of holiday entertainments …

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‘Twist Your Dickens,’ ‘Elf’ at opposite ends of holiday fare

Shows are among theater productions marking the season in metro area

Posted

The past week led us to two of many local theatrical holiday celebrations — one for families and the other clearly for grownups—and the metro area theaters offer a range of holiday entertainments in both categories. Celebrate the talented local actors’ community who bring us laughs — and matters to think about — through the year … enjoy a performance this season!

Most readers have probably seen the 2003 movie, “Elf,” at some point in past years, but this musical (through Dec. 23 at the Arvada Center) delivers the story in song and dance — we were especially taken with the bunch of dancing, singing elves in Act 1 — with some sympathetic twinges!

The story about restoring a spirit of Christmas among gloomy New Yorkers starts with a baby who accidentally slips into Santa’s sack during one of his stops and ends up back at the North Pole — to be raised by Santa’s elves. Buddy the elf is played by tall, lean Josh Houghton at the Arvada Center, an actor with a strong voice and the elf’s wide-eyed innocence as he meets NYC.

Santa (Colin Alexander) suggests that, as a human, rather than an elf, Buddy might want to look for his actual father, Walter Hobbs, who publishes children’s books — especially Christmas books — and has an office in the Empire State Building. Therein lies a tale ... Father Hobbs is a modern-day Scrooge type, who certainly doesn’t have room for an elf in his world — which naive Buddy wanders into. Sharon Kay White, an Arvada favorite, rules the office — and the stage at points — as Hobbs’ secretary, Deb. Here, and throughout, production song and dance numbers break out — as they should in a proper musical. Choreography is by Kitty Skillman Hilsabeck and musical direction by newcomer Christopher Baggage. The score by Matthew Sklar, is pleasant, bringing in suggestions of snow and sleigh bells, but not memorable. “Sparklejollytwinlejingley” is fun! Scenic design, by Laura K. Love made great use of projections throughout, with a few bits of furniture and such otherwise.

Kids in the audience shouted advice to the cast at several spots during the performance, which suggested they were certainly engaged. This musical is a good theater introduction for the short set — perhaps at grade three or four and up — and of course, adults will catch some bits that little ones don’t, but I really love the idea that they will think of holiday celebrations that include a story told on the stage.

Hobbs’ wife and young son, Michael, connect with Buddy and take him home with them. (His elf training comes in handy as he repairs a new toy.) He also connects with somewhat jaded Jovie, an office worker, and is awkward at romancing a girlfriend — he does the charming/awkward bit well.

Director Gavin Mayer returns to the Arvada Center from his current spot as director of musical theatre at the University of Nevada in Reno. He has helmed a number of holiday musicals at Arvada in past years.

• “Twist Your Dickens” at the Aurora Fox brings in a script by Second City writers — and former “Colbert Report” writers — Peter Gwinn and Bobby Mort, who direct their imaginations to a retelling of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” that is funny and fresh — and requiring really experienced comic actors to pull it off. New Fox executive director Helen Murray invited Washington, D.C., director Matthew R. Wilson, a comedy specialist, to helm this spoof, set in 1843, we are told. The spoof brings in solid Denver area actor Eric Sandvold as Scrooge — fun to see him take on some silly stuff in his first Fox appearance. And he does it really well — from the first “Humbug!” (“Here it Comes!”)

I think many people don’t realize what precision timing and expert delivery is required to pull off successful comedy. Sean Michael Cummings plays Scrooge’s mistreated clerk — and assorted other parts — while Ilasiea Gray is Mrs. Cratchit. Petit Jessica Austgen plays Tiny Tim (“please just call me Tim”) as well as a number of other characters.

A shouting Seth Palmer Harris comes up from the audience early in the first act with opinions about everything that’s happening — and flows smoothly into the cast, playing any number of Dickens characters — Fezziwig, Scrooge’s nephew, and of course, those ghosts … who are a trip!

Then there’s Charlie Schmidt with spot-on Jimmy Stewart/George Bailey snippets every so often and there are ongoing Denver area references worked in, as well as a bit of Charlie Brown’s Christmas … with appropriate costumes. Incidents from the book happen as the Cratchits wait for Christmas dinner in their corner

With audience interaction involved, I’m guessing this show will be different every night — just leave any preconceptions about how it should proceed at the front door and relax as you watch accomplished actors at play!

This one is not for the kids, but parents and grandparents should have fun.

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