Instead of performing Charles Dickens’ beloved holiday classic for the umpteenth time, three actors decide to perform every Christmas story ever told — plus Christmas traditions from around the world, seasonal icons from ancient times to topical pop culture, and every carol ever sung.
That’s the self-explanatory one-line for the show opening Dec. 1 (preview Nov. 30) at freeFall Theatre. Written by Michael Carleton, James FitzGerald and John K. Alvarez, it’s a fast-paced (duh) two-act comedy called Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!)
A little history: In an interview with Theatre at Monmouth, Carleton explained that he and his collaborators wrote the show out of necessity, during his tenure as Artistic Director at Cape May Stage. “We were informed late in the season that we couldn’t get the rights to the Christmas show I had intended for the holiday slot, so we had to write something ourselves at the last minute,” he said. “We had about three weeks, and were literally rehearsing the newest final bits as the audience was queuing out front of the theater.
“It was simply a show we needed for ourselves, and we’ve been kind of surprised (and pleased) that other theaters have made it part of their lineups.”
The freeFall production is directed by Patrick Ryan Sullivan, last seen as the swashbuckling El Gallo in The Fantasticks. In fact, Every Christmas Story Ever Told is Sullivan’s eighth collaboration with freeFall.
“This show is controlled chaos,” Sullivan explains, “Very similar to A Tuna Christmas, if you know any of the Tuna shows. It’s got three people that are constantly changing clothes.
“And with this version of it, we’ve embraced the idea that one of the characters really, really, really wants to do A Christmas Carol. That’s kind of his driving factor. And he keeps getting shoved into all these other situations by the other two actors. Every chance he gets in the show, he’ll say ‘Marley is dead.’”
Dickens is in good company here, as the onstage three plow their way through everything from Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer to A Charlie Brown Christmas. There are non-secular, “reason for the season” moments, too, sprinkled in between the knee-slapping bits.
Every Christmas Story was written by three white guys, to be acted by three white guys. At freeFall, Michael Ursua is the lone Caucasian male; the cast includes Dexter Jones, who’s African American, and Sara Delbeato, who is – you guessed it – a woman.
Jones, an actor, singer and dancer, has appeared on Broadway in 42nd Street (Sullivan was in that one, too) along with in Bring in da Funk, Black and Blue and others. He toured as a Riverdance dancer.
“There’s a segment on the Macy’s Day parade, where Michael and Sara are the announcers,” Sullivan reports, “and everything they describe, Dexter is doing.
“So the announcers will go ‘What do we have here – why, it’s the cast of Bring in da Noise, Bring in da Funk! They’re going to do a number!’
“What’s cool about it is, everybody gets to highlight themselves. Michael gets to play the piano quite a bit. Sara is going to have a song to kind of show off. And Dexter has these tap dancing things.
“So amongst all the irreverent-ness of what is going on, you’re going to get three opportunities to see three incredibly talented musical theater actors do what they do best.”
Ursua was also in the cast of The Fantasticks at freeFall, while Delbeato appeared in The Pirates of Penzance (in Space!).
“I think the diversity that’s onstage is nice,” says Sullivan. “Of course, we held onto the three stereotypes in the script – the serious guy who just wants to do A Christmas Carol – that’s Michael, the intellectual (that’s Dexter) and the comedian who’s just along for the ride. That’s Sara.”