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Posted at 3:18 PM ET, 07/13/2009

'The Devil's Christmas Carol': A Musical From Hell

By Stephanie Merry
Fringe Festival

When you're spending all day going to performances in an unjuried theater festival, you can bet that not everything is going to be a winner. Fringe is, after all, really a celebration of the theater craft -- from the writing to the rehearsing to the final performance -- and so the actors might be getting as much out of Fringe as the audience. In the case of "The Devil's Christmas Carol," though, the actors probably got more out of the production than the audience.

OutOftheBlackBox Theater Company's world premiere response to Charles Dickens' holiday classic was full of good intentions. The Greenbelt theater group's succinct summary even sounded amusingly intriguing: The devil forces his captives to perform "A Christmas Carol" for eternity and dangles a carrot of freedom to get them to give their 647th performance the old college try.

But the premise turned out to be more muddled. The performance got started with a "Lost"-style flashback about a man abandoning his wife after she gives birth to a crippled baby, which explains why Tiny Tim ended up in Hell in the first place. Beyond that, the story was a mishmash of characters searching for stage props, reunited family members, homages to the source material, an ornery director who may have a Napoleon complex and -- out of nowhere -- a love story.

Unfortunately, the script wasn't the only thing that needed more work. The whole performance seemed more rehearsal than finished product. There were missed cues, premature stage entrances and forgotten lyrics. Meanwhile the background music (which sounded like a discordant call-and-response between a bassoon and a glockenspiel), was so loud it was often impossible to hear the actors on stage.

There were redeeming qualities. A huge one was Kayla Dixon, who played Tiny Tim's daughter Gabriela. Her voice was in a class of its own and her stage presence and poise were well beyond her middle school years. Even so, one 8th grader can't be expected to prop up an entire musical.

-- Stephanie

By Stephanie Merry  | July 13, 2009; 3:18 PM ET
Categories:  Theater  
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Dear Ms Merry: There are serious problems with the acoustics at this venue. The actors on stage could barely hear the music while the audience found it too loud.

Posted by: martinoswant | July 14, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for your comment martinoswant. That certainly explains why the actors had difficulty hitting their cues! I hope they're able to figure something out for the remainder of their run.

Posted by: Stephanie Merry | July 14, 2009 11:30 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for your review. I played the "ornery director who may have a Napoleon complex", I made him that angry on purpose (I've always felt that demons are angry people). I've been short my whole life, I got over it pretty quickly.

Yeah, the acoustics are relatively bad, I don't sing in the show, but even my decent young person ears were straining just a bit to hear the numbers.

Also, just out of personal curiosity, which performance did you come to?

I made the first comment just in case you were wondering about that, if it came across as rude, then I did not mean for it to come across that way and I meant it with the utmost respect.

Posted by: VicViper26 | July 15, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

Hi there!

I appreciated your comments (although, as the playwright, I obviously didn't enjoy them).

I knew that I was taking a risk with this play. I knew at the outset, that if the audience didn't become interested in my characters, that the play would not succeed.

I also know that in daring to write original music for this production, I took another risk.

The Fringe Fest is the venue for bringing your risky, experimental effort for a trial by fire.

Thank-you for sharing your point-of-view.

Posted by: pennysense55 | July 16, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

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