Review: Old Globe’s wintry ‘San Diego Christmas Show’ a fun, fast-moving celebration
The 78-minute musical comedy ‘Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show’ re-sets Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ in 1919 Balboa Park
It’s fitting that the Old Globe’s anachronistic “Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show” opened Tuesday, Nov. 23 just as Santa Ana winds prepared to sweep into town for a balmy Thanksgiving weekend.
The funny and briskly paced play with music is a reimagining of Charles Dickens’ Victorian holiday novella “A Christmas Carol,” set in windswept San Diego, circa 1919. Although the bones of the redemptive story of Ebenezer Scrooge one Christmas Eve night are all there, the meat layered on top in this show is liberally seasoned with amusing references to local sports teams, neighboring cities and local landmarks. The more San Diegans know about their hometown, the funnier it gets.
The 78-minute play by Gordon Greenberg and Steve Rosen premiered at the Globe in 2019. After a pandemic break, it’s back, in the intimate Sheryl & Harvey White Theatre. Greenberg’s imaginative direction uses simple props, like puppets, posters, a ladder and empty door frame, and he allows the show’s multitalented five-member cast to do the rest, including singing, dancing, playing instruments and interacting with the audience. Adam Koch’s scenic design has a hidden surprise and David Israel Reynoso’s turn-of-the-century costumes add color and whimsy to the show.
In this version of the “Carol,” Scrooge is a moneylender who helped fund the construction of Balboa Park for the 1915 Panama–California Exposition. Four years later on Christmas Eve, he is running his counting house in a building where the Old Globe will eventually stand. For this streamlined retelling, many unnecessary “Carol” scenes have been eliminated and the family of Scrooge’s beleaguered clerk, Bob Cratchit, has been downsized to one child — Tiny Tim — creatively portrayed with an adult actor with a tiny puppet body hanging from his neck. The Cratchits’ Christmas feast won’t be a small turkey but a seagull and driftwood.
After a visit from the Saint Sisters, charity solicitors sent from the Mission by the “San Diego Padres,” Scrooge heads home in gale-force winds, where he’s visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve night — and not the three that San Diegans are most familiar with, namely the ghosts in the “Hotel Del Coronado, the Whaley House and the San Diego Chargers fan club.” The Ghost of Christmas Past has a suffragette-Mary Poppins look and the Ghost of Christmas Present is a contemporary, Instagram influencer on a Bird scooter. Once Scrooge finally rediscovers his inner humanity, he decides to put on a show with music, dancing and audience sing-alongs.
Among the many amusing local shout-outs are references to the Coronado and Cabrillo bridges, Spreckels Organ Pavilion, Del Mar, Temecula, Kaiser Permanente and the predictably awful congestion in Trader Joe’s parking lots.
Bill Buell plays Scrooge with a crusty edge but not the usual bellowing meanness that would overwhelm the small theater-in-the-round space. The other four cast members — George Abud, Orville Mendoza, Cathryn Wake and Jacque Wilke — are all excellent in multiple roles. Abud is a particular standout with his expert fiddling skills during the uplifting finale.
‘Ebenezer Scrooge’s BIG San Diego Christmas Show’
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through Dec. 26.
Where: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park, San Diego.
Tickets: $37 and up
Phone: (619) 234-5623
COVID protocol: Proof of full vaccination required or negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 72 hours of showtime for ages 12 and up. Masks required indoors.
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