Don Bauder 12:35 p.m., June 19
I wonder if Charles Dickens had any idea how much "A Christmas Carol" would proliferate. Come the yuletide season, there are different versions in every American city.
A note to budding theater critics (along with encouragement to keep going and keep learning): you will see more productions of A Christmas Carol than any other play. Five, maybe even ten times more, in fact. And because you will see so many - over 50 in my case - you'll be grateful for the occasional spoof, especially when done as well as Diversionary's Scrooge in Rouge.
We're in a Victorian music hall, watched over by a portrait of the Queen. All 20 members of the Variety Players were going to perform the Dickens story but, alas and alack, 17 came down with food poisoning ("an undigested bit of beef"?). So Vesta Virile, legendary male impersonator, and two other troopers must essay the various roles, from Marley's Ghost to Tiny Tim. Fortunately they've got a crack pianist (Rick Shaffer), and the music hall's noted for its cross-dressers, so switching genders'll be a cinch.
What follows is polished chaos: split-second costume changes, at least 20 musical numbers (book and lyrics, Ricky Graham, music, Jefferson Turner) in 90 minutes, and a nose-dive for the bawdy, often when Dickens wants to amp up the sentiment.
Vesta, a famous male-impersonator, plays Scrooge. He's so tight-fisted "fortune tellers have to read his knuckles." Somehow, multi-talented Jacque Wilke both conveys and spoofs his meanness, in part because Vesta has a cruel streak - she cooked the poisoned meal - and such a whopping sense of superiority she deems Scrooge a lesser curmudgeon.
Stewart Calhoun, relative newcomer, fits right in as Charlie Schmaltz. Along with portraying a host of Dickensian beings - all appropriately cartooned - Calhoun delivers so many groaners you'd think we were in the office of a 19th century dentist.
Diversionary first staged Scrooge in 2008. Tony Houck earned a Craig Noel Award for his performance as daft Lotte Obbligato. He reprises the role, once again with a clear, coloratura soprano. Houck also directed this year's version with such a knowing sense of theatricality he merits other assignments, soon.
The production offers a festive set by David Medina, precise lighting by Luke Olson, and a cornucopia of period costumes by Jennifer Brawn Gittings.