AGATHA CHRISTIE’S MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS AT THE LYRIC STAGE
Forget “whodunnit,” the bigger question is “who cares.”
An ensemble cast of beloved local actors doing their best is what Murder on the Orient Express boils down to. Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of the classic Agatha Christie murder mystery is serviceable at best, unnecessary at worst, both of which wind up being an ideal match for Spiro Veloudos’s clumsy production, which is equally well-intentioned but hardly what I’d call vital theater.
Seaghan McKay’s projections are a game changer for the Lyric, transforming the small space beyond its means into something beautifully cinematic, but Brynna Bloomfield’s grayscale art deco set is often washed out by Scott Clyve’s not-nuanced-enough lighting design, which undoes a little bit of the magic conjured up by McKay’s projections.
Despite the potential of this classic whodunit and the appeal of its ensemble cast, Veloudos and company are never able to make this coalesce into anything substantial.
DOLLY PARTON’S SMOKY MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS CAROL AT THE EMERSON COLONIAL THEATRE
Raise your hand if you’ve ever felt personally victimized by a musical.
Look, I’m all for holiday programming. I’m certainly a fan of A Christmas Carol. And Dolly Parton? Anytime, anywhere. But unfortunately, there is little to recommend in her new country-tinged take on the story, which is set in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, where Parton grew up.
Parton was a surprise guest on opening night, which marked the official world premiere of the new musical. But the charm stopped the second Parton left the stage after a pre-curtain speech.
Broad, cheesy, and forgettable, not even Parton’s original score can salvage the evening. Thinly drawn characters (the book is by David H. Bell) are barely brought to life with even thinner performances—though Mary Tanner, who plays both the Ghost of Christmas Past and Scrooge’s maid, has some moments of undeniable comic gold.
I don’t see Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol becoming a holiday staple any time soon, at least not up in these parts. To quote Scrooge, “You can skip yer sermon. I ain’t buyin’ it.”
DOLLY PARTON’S SMOKY MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS CAROL. THROUGH 12.29 AT THE EMERSON COLONIAL THEATRE, 106 BOYLSTON ST., BOSTON. EMERSONCOLONIALTHEATRE.COM
CHRISTMAS ON URANUS! BY GOLD DUST ORPHANS
When the evil emperor of Uranus, Minge the Merkinless, sees that children all around the world are receiving guns for Christmas, he orders the abduction of Santa Claus so that he can effectively arm the planet for whatever intergalactic war Minge plans on waging.
The Robinsons—of Lost in Space fame—are chosen to go into space on a mission to rescue Santa. Also in tow are Doctor Dorothy Spornak and her mother, Sofia the Robot; think The Golden Girls meets Star Trek.
While the performances are all spot-on, the plot is incredibly convoluted and fast moving, so much so that I struggled to stay with the story. Sure, there are moments of laugh-out-loud brilliance and the kind of irreverent camp that fans of Ryan Landry and the Gold Dust Orphans come back for season after season, but it’s spread just a little too thin here.
I also found it hard to connect to the material given my relative unfamiliarity with a lot of the things being spoofed. But only Ryan Landry could dream up a space battle to Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” which had me in stitches.
The Orphans’ new space at the Lithuanian Club is just fine—it’s certainly easier to get a drink—but the chairs do not need to be so closely smashed together; I felt like I could barely fit in my chair, which made the experience needlessly uncomfortable.
It’s true that I had a hard time connecting to this material, but Christmas on Uranus! remains a refreshing holiday entertainment option, particularly if you’re all set with the many Nutcrackers, A Christmas Carols, or any of the other predictable holiday traditions that pop up all around Boston year after year.
CHRISTMAS ON URANUS! THROUGH 12.22 AT THE IRON WOLF THEATRE AT THE SOUTH BOSTON LITHUANIAN CITIZENS ASSOCIATION, 368 WEST BROADWAY, SOUTH BOSTON. GOLDDUSTORPHANS.COM
OLIVER! AT NEW REPERTORY THEATRE
You know you’re in trouble when the best part about Oliver! is Bill Sikes.
I had high hopes for New Rep’s production, which is the first directed by new artistic director Michael J. Bobbitt since he took over earlier this year. But this production is a misfire for a bunch of small reasons—mostly lack of attention to detail—all of which make Oliver! irredeemably problematic.
According to director’s notes, Bobbitt envisioned a production that sought to model itself after the “masters of dark entertainment,” Tim Burton, Lemony Snicket, and Edward Gorey. As stylized and wacky as Burton, Snicket, and Gorey can be, they were also painstakingly faithful to the time period they were evoking. But too frequently the magic of Oliver! is dashed by Rachel Padula-Shufelt’s costumes, which shatter the otherwise compelling aesthetic. A modern day blazer, for example, but also chunky shoes that look like ’90s Skechers, fingerless red leather gloves, and—most offensive of all—denim.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but denim does not have a place in Victorian London. Neither do jazz shoes, or colored scarves that look like they were picked up from a kiosk at Faneuil Hall. Call me crazy, but this should not be an issue on a professional stage. I’m no scholar of the Victorian era, but I also find it hard to believe that “the worm” was a popular dance move of the time. Just saying.
Another problem is that the Artful Dodger is played by a girl, as a girl. I say “as a girl” because Dodger has frequently been played by females, often with their hair tucked up under their hats, pretending to be male. (For the record, I hate that, too). But it’s not authentic to the time period that a young girl would be the protege of a career criminal and live in a den with other boys. Fagin’s gang must be boys for the dynamic between Fagin and Dodger to work properly. And there’s also the dynamic between Nancy, Bet, and the gang. It’s important that Nancy and Bet are the only females.
And then there’s stage and screen legend Austin Pendleton, who—on paper, anyway—seemed like a slam-dunk to play Fagin. But never has the role of Fagin seemed so small. With no effort to use any kind of British accent, Pendleton comes across as if he’s tentatively going through the motions. It’s actually a bizarrely bad performance, which is very unlike Pendleton.
On the plus side, Frank Meissner’s lighting design is exquisite, without which this production would likely have no atmosphere at all. The eight-piece orchestra, led by Sariva Goetz, sounds robust and twice as large as it is, seldom the case with small theaters taking on large orchestrations.
And then there’s Rashed Alnuaimi, who is a perfect Bill Sikes. Volatile and terrifying, this production is better whenever he’s on stage. This production is also at its best when it embraces the story’s gritty, awful darkness, which it does about two hours too late: The final 10 minutes are thrilling.
I love this musical. But this production is like last week’s gruel.
OLIVER! THROUGH 12.29 AT NEW REPERTORY THEATRE, 321 ARSENAL ST., WATERTOWN. NEWREP.ORG