There’s smart silly and there’s stupid silly. And then there’s superb silly that’s so cheekily self-aware it’s sublime.
Richmond Triangle Players has produced “Scrooge in Rouge” twice before (2009 and 2017) and there is a good reason the company keeps bringing it back. A bawdy deconstruction of “A Christmas Carol,” the show’s so-bad-it’s-good ethos pretty much guarantees a good time.
The play-within-a-musical kicks off quickly as we find out that the majority of Queen Victoria’s Royal Music Hall acting troupe has been incapacitated by food poisoning, leaving just three players to perform all the parts in the Dickens holiday classic.
The result is a whirlwind of malapropisms, onstage spats, and purposefully bad jokes that doesn’t present the play so much as exploit its myriad tropes for hilariously sideways skits. Good-natured groaners like “I know [the piano player] is Italian because he’s got roamin’ fingers” warm up the audience for darkly uproarious scenes like Bob Cratchit’s wife carelessly stuffing her baby into her pocket while she smokes a cigarette.
While this kind of wackiness establishes a nearly bulletproof baseline level of humor, it takes skillful actors to elevate it to true heights of hilarity and director Kendall Walker made inspired choices in assembling her cast.
Drag performer Wette Midler plays the gloriously self-involved Lottie Obbligato who can’t stop calling Tiny Tim’s family the “crab cakes” or the play’s author Charles Darwin. Nora Ogunleye makes grumpiness endearing as Vesta Virile, the Music Hall performer charged with embodying Scrooge. She does so with an energy that alternates between eye-rolling annoyance and needy pitches for audience approval.
August Hundley is a true revelation as Charlie Schmaltz who delivers the worst of the jokes with such winning cheerfulness you can’t help laughing. Saddled with playing characters as disparate as Scrooge’s party-boy nephew, Fred, and the Devil himself, Hundley makes Charlie’s antic struggle to remain upbeat palpable amidst the ill-fitting costumes, missed cues and escalating logistical challenges.
Music director Elle Meerovich not only provides top-notch accompaniment to the often unhinged songs but also acts as a secret weapon with her on-stage persona, Alfie Da Cappo. When the actors run out of people to play Tiny Tim, Da Cappo’s refusal to be drafted into service is a low-key highlight.
These performers have all appeared in shows at RTP before; three of the four were in last year’s “The Rocky Horror Show.” But Walker accentuates their specific talents, letting Midler find a blissful contentment in her character’s narcissism, for instance.
She also manages the often complicated stage traffic with aplomb.
The production’s technical elements all help to elevate the humor, especially costume designer Sheila Russ’s cavalcade of striking costumes (working from original designs from Thomas Hammond). Sound designer Joey Luck adds fun sonic touches as well, like the spooky reverb in Ebenezer’s voice.
The scramble of gender identities in the show isn’t foregrounded but makes room for several comic asides and undercurrents, at one point lending a paradoxical delight to Vesta’s insult “you make an ugly woman!”
Getting back to that Tiny Tim business, the wonderful way the cast gets itself out of that particular pickle is just one of dozens of entertaining reasons to see this show. For anyone tired of the sometimes saccharine sentiment of the season, “Scrooge in Rouge” is the perfect antidote.
“Scrooge in Rouge: An English Music Hall Christmas Carol” runs through Dec. 23 at Richmond Triangle Players, 1300 Altamont Ave. Tickets and information available at https://rtriangle.org/.