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Saturday, January 31, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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StageQ's Scrooge in Rouge is a sidesplitting sendup of Dickens' holiday classic
The script, sprinkled with vaudeville-style one-liners and racy asides, is surprisingly faithful to the original story.
Credit:Rob Matsushita

It wouldn't be the holidays if there weren't a few disasters. But even if your fruitcake burns to a crisp in the oven, your Christmas tree falls over, and your presents are lost by the post office, you're probably going to have a better day than the actors portrayed in Scrooge in Rouge, a cross-dressing sendup of the Dickens classic by StageQ (through Dec. 21 at the Bartell Theatre).

Set in an English music hall, a troupe of performers is scheduled to appear in a musical version of the beloved holiday tale A Christmas Carol, but a bout of food poisoning has left the show with only four the 20 company members well enough to go on and, well, the show must go on. The hapless quartet try to fill all the gaps in the story by wearing many, many more hats than usual -- both literally and figuratively. The results are predictably full of the kinds of mishaps, mistakes and the misery that fuel actors' nightmares.

The remaining ensemble includes Lottie Obbligatio (Scott Bennett) as a corseted queen of mispronunciation and innuendo; Charlie Schmaltz (Sean Langenecker) as a quick change artist with a distinct voice and dance routine for every character; and Vesta Virile (Raven Albrecht) as the male impersonator and de facto "straight man" who portrays Ebenezer Scrooge throughout the show. Alfred Da Capo (Lizzie Hansen) provides musical accompaniment and a few gags from her piano bench.

The script, sprinkled with vaudeville-style one-liners and racy asides, is surprisingly faithful to the original story, presenting many scenes from A Christmas Carol with the familiar narrative intact. In the two dozen songs, however, all-new lyrics are packed into music-hall patter songs. These lines are both clever and cringe-worthy. The performers often seem to be singing and dancing as fast as they can to keep up with the cynical libretto.

Oddly enough, the most successful musical numbers come at the end of each act and have nothing to do with the holiday story. "Beside the Briny, Shiny Sea" comes complete with wooden waves rocked back and forth by stagehands, and "Good Riddance, Goodbye!" is the show's finale, in which the actors urge the audience to leave, promising to meet in the lobby for a drink.

Though they are supposed to be members of the same motley crew, Langenecker outshines his castmates. Possessing a strong singing voice, a beauty-pageant smile, some crazy dance moves, plus a boatload of conviction, he is a pleasure to watch, even when some of his jokes and puns fall flat.

A truly outstanding element of this costumed comedy is the costumes themselves. Designed by RavenWorks owner and lead actor Raven Albrecht, they are as exceptional as they are plentiful, from the elaborately decorated hats, to the multitude of capes, hoop skirts, corsets and gowns.

Under Michael Bruno's direction, Scrooge in Rouge doesn't build up quite enough momentum to keep you laughing all evening, but it contains enough surprises to make a favorite holiday story feel new again. And though the show teeters on the brink of catastrophe, the actors live to perform another day, which seems like a real Christmas miracle.

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