The Artword Theatre is cramming a whack of seasonal fun into their tiny package of a space. Mixing local Sicilian–Canadian storyteller Charly Chiarelli and “Charly” Dickens makes a Christmas–cracker exploding with musical and comedic goodies that will make an addition to your festive season you will never forget.
One doesn’t want to overuse the word unmissable, but if this cast keep on like they’re going, this will be the event of the season.
Ebenzu Scrugi is a skinflint with roots in Sicilia and a tightfisted grasp on the Canadian dollars he has earned while struggling from dirt poverty to the upper echelons of Hamilton society. With some help from his couginis, of course... That is, until he is accosted by (you guessed it) the ghost of his dead business partner Jacobo Marley, and three ‘spiritu’s of Natali Past, present and future.
Ron Wiehs and Judith Sandiford (the Mr. and Mrs Fezziwig of James North), dispense artistic delights all year round, but they’ve really laid on a feast of seasonal fireworks to warm us through to the other side of March. The ingenuity displayed in mounting a full musical in a space the size of a one per–centers walk–in closet is a wonder to behold.
You really can’t go wrong with the irrepressible Chiarelli as Scrooge. The man is a raconteur born and bred, and anchors this piece with essential charm and humour.
It’s essential because, let’s face it, the Christmas Carol is kind of like a well–loved stuffed toy — so many generations of writers have adapted, re–written, changed locals, and otherwise mucked with Charles Dickens’ beautiful and moving prose novel, that yet another rendition threatens to burst the seams and let the stuffing out.
Thankfully this is too seasoned an artistic team, with too deep a well of talent to go far wrong. While the cast certainly slept soundly after last Saturday’s comedic and musical marathon, the audience got every penny of the ticket price.
Wiehs, Sandiford, and Chiarelli are an artist team that have worked together successfully for more years than they will likely admit to, and their sensibilities interweave beautifully, as always, here, and they’ve blended seamlessly into the Hamilton scene.
A new addition to the Artword team this time out is playwright Ryan Sero, who delights in absurdity and corn–ball word play with the banter and rhythm of Vaudeville. There are quite a few groaners in the mix here, but lots of very very funny character work, and a great many subverted expectations, which is a huge blessing. You wouldn’t think this story could be retold again, and kept fresh, but this team does a fine job, and you won’t regret investing your time.
Gordon Odegaard’s simultaneous playing of Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim almost steals the show – and stealing a show from Charly Chiarelli is a little like knocking over a Swiss bank. You wouldn’t think anyone could steal what has already been stolen, but this straight–man and ventriloquist dummy shtick puts this show over the top, into don’t miss it success.
Pamela Gardener’s ditzy deconstructionist Christmas Past spirit is beautifully boho and, like, totally James North?! Paula Grove’s flirtatious Italian Christmas Present is utterly bang on archetypal man–eater (think Mercedes Ruhl in the Fisher King), while Valerie Kay has gorgeous fun with her deapan–twinkle Christmas Future.
Newer Artwordians Jeremy Shand, as Jacobo and many essential Character Parts, is a key workhorse without whom this show simply could not go on, and likewise keyboardist Jennifer Lockman carries immense weight in this massively ambitious show for a tiny company.
Don’t think this is just hilarity and diversion. It is, absolutely, diverting, but so importantly for this show, the spirit of the Christmas Carol isn’t drowned by the frivolity or meaningless festivity. Scrugi’s Sicilian past is beautiful but hard, and the Children of Christmas Present are given their due.
Everyone onstage is having a lot of fun here, and you will too. At twenty five bucks a ticket, you’re getting a steal. In fact, you may feel guilty you paid so little. The Artword is to theatre, what Joss Whedon’s Firefly was to Science Fiction; Beautiful, brave and independent… and always flying on the edge.
Remember to bring your carolling voice, because the more you put in to this show the more you get out of it. Like any community, really. And that’s really what the season is about, isn’t it? V
Until Dec. 15
@ Artword Theatre,