OGDEN — “We love Christmas Carol as much as the next theater, and if the next theater (and the next, and the next . . .) didn’t produce it every single year, we might give it a shot! We’re thrilled to bring something different . . .” That’s the beginning of the online advertisement for Ken Ludwig’s ’Twas the Night Before Christmas at the Ziegfeld Theater. The Zig provided a nice family-friendly option if you want something a little goofy and also fairly original, instead of also doing a musical knockoff of classic Christmas movies. While ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas was enjoyable, just didn’t have enough holiday magic to be engrossing from start to finish.
Ken Ludwig is a well-known name in many theaters for productions of Lend Me a Tenor, The Three Musketeers, or Crazy for You. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is a foray into theater for young audiences that still has doses of Ludwig’s farcical and adventure styles. Typical to many shows for children, audience participation plays a part in the action. Amos Mouse and Emily kick this show off by encouraging the audience to sing Christmas carols. Ludwig also added some fun farce notes with a lively chase and some mistaken identities. Other entertaining additions were a plane ride to the North Pole and a few carol raps. There were some scenes that drag a little, yet overall the script was entertaining, a little better wrapped than many youth shows, and fun to follow.
The hour-long show moved quickly but could have benefied from more dynamic direction from William Richardson, primarily in the use of the space and the actors. The show had a hard time trying to balance between how the actors on the proscenium stage were supposed to interact with each other and the large audience space. Richardson never quite figured out how to tie these two together. Generally inconsistent blocking accented this problem, leaving the actors to primarily stand in a line of three characters switching places at random without using the depth of the stage or the set dressings. When the farcical chase began, the actors were able to hit their marks even as they played multiple characters, but it was unfortunate that everyone was just running in whimsical circle instead of crossing paths more.
The scenic design by Caleb Parry was versatile in taking a basic unit set and being able to flip it from a house to Santa’s Workshop. I also enjoyed the imaginative airplane ride to the North Pole that used a little stage magic to set plane up, but then kept the actors in control of the tension. However, I was mostly disappointed that parts of the set were underused. There was little to no purpose for most of the material hanging on the walls (which were not heavily decorated enough to match the mood of the script). The creative team seem to only use the set dressing in a perfunctory manner, when they could have heightened tension, motivations, and comedic potential with some better use of the set and the actors.
The actors, however, were the hot cocoa and cookies of a technically cold night. Allen Mccracken gives a great performance as Amos Mouse, a 6-foot-tall scared mouse who serves as a great main character. Mccracken had the profound ability to make naiveté an enjoyable comedic experience. He did get a little stuck in caricature, but really being a show for kids, the lack of a dramatic depth was fine and he drove most of the show. Amos Mouse’s twin brother from Kansas (also played by Mccracken) was a pleasant cowboy who added to the farce of the show. Mccracken’s performance differentiated the characters well through comportment and gait, despite them being identical twins with the same name.
Liz Hernandez was delightful as an adventurous girl Emily. She coaxed the constantly worried Amos and kept that wide-eyed wonder a natural occurrence. She performed the laudable job of not making a high-pitched child annoying or squealing. Alyn Bone played Calliope, a Jewish elf who doesn’t work on Hanukkah or Friday nights. Bone was bubbling with energy that really fit the tireless work of elves. However, this energy was perhaps the most lost when Richardson’s blocking stagnated, as Calliope needed someplace to go or do, and yet was stuck center stage. The best comic relief of the night was when Mccracken, Bone, and Hernandez performed a couple of intense raps. I mean, aren’t clean Christmas raps a pleasant change from Bing Crosby and renditions of the “Hallelujah Chorus”?
Other actors in the cast all had to play multiple characters. Lloyd Parry had a delightfully staunch and “wise” Uncle Brierly. He read eloquently and was bristling with frustration as Amos danced with “Pigeons and sugarplums.” Lloyd Parry made a good villain as Sir Guy, the disgraced elf trying to steal the naughty/nice list from Santa for his own means. I did wish his sword fighting were a little flashier and his monologues a little more peppy, as this character’s explanations tend to drag, but Parry performed Sir Guy nicely. Mulch (Tim White) made an entertaining addition as Sir Guy’s clueless henchmen. Yet more impressive was White’s quick changes to Santa in midst of so much ruckus.
The farcical moments and good catch lines were well executed by all of the actors. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas is fun and full of energy with delightful characters and witty lines. There is some poor direction, but the play is a nice little goofy show that the kids will like and has just enough laughs for the grown-ups. Plus you might be able to meet Santa afterwards.