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THEATER REVIEW: “Scrooge In Rouge”

You say you’ve seen Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” 50 times and the idea of seeing it again doesn’t exactly make you tingle?

Relax, grab a ticket to Diversionary Theatre’s “Scrooge In Rouge” and prepare for a festive (if a tad raunchy) send-up of that Christmas favorite.

Here’s the setup: A London music hall in the Victorian era has lost 17 of its 20 players to food poisoning after last night’s cast party, so the remaining trio will have to get through the show (and its 23 roles) without them.

Male impersonator Vesta Virile (Samantha Ginn) plays Scrooge (“so mean he sent Mother’s Day cards to orphans”). Charlie Schmaltz (Justin Warren Martin) is Scrooge’s annoying nephew Freddy (and others), and Tony Houck – arrayed in poofy Victorian splendor – plays Lottie Obbligato and most of the other female roles.

The show, with book and lyrics by Ricky Graham, music by Jefferson Turner and additional material by Jeffrey Roberson and Yvette Hargis, first hit San Diego in 2008. Last year it returned, and this third incarnation makes it look like it’s becoming a holiday tradition. Let’s hope so.

The Dickens plot is loosely followed, improved by the addition of Turner’s era-appropriate (often very funny) songs and dances by choreographer Michael Mizerany. But mostly, it’s a quick-changing, cross-dressing romp with goofy songs and jokes both corny (“Is your name Goiter? You’re a pain in the neck”) and suggestive (“A smart man gives his wife a grand piano. A wise man gives her an upright organ”).

Singing along isn’t necessary, but audience participation is required: Someone is drafted to play Tiny Tim each night. And get ready for three of the strangest looking ghosts you’re likely to encounter.

Ginn is terrific as Scrooge, scowling and hunched over with a cane, crippled body matching Scrooge’s shriveled spirit. The part of Vesta is based on the real life Vesta Tilley, the most famous (and best paid) male impersonator of her day.

Houck uses his talent for comedy (not to mention his incredible falsetto and breath control) to enliven several other roles such as a charity worker (“D’ya like me muff?” she asks the audience), Scrooge’s sister Fanny, his girlfriend Alice and Mrs. Cratchit.

Martin takes on Freddy in a green getup reminiscent of Santaland, but also plays Marley’s ghost (with chains that “come with the costume”), Mrs. Fezziwig with a poofy mop of red hair, and the Ghost of Christmas Present in black, with a long lavender coat and hair to match.

They’ve installed a bar in the theater for the occasion, and the partaking of libations is encouraged.

“Scrooge In Rouge” came to San Diego via Le Chat Noir in New Orleans. Let’s hope it becomes another local Christmas tradition.

The details

“Scrooge In Rouge” plays through Dec. 29 at Diversionary Theatre, 4545 Park Blvd.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (619) 220-0097 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.