Monday, November 21, 2016

Review: Have a Oozy Boozy Christmas

By Michael Block 

Even in November, we're getting in the holiday spirit. From the folks who brought you the hit drinking show The Imbible, comes the Christmas spin-off The Imbible: Christmas Carol Cocktails. Drink the night away with holiday merriment but if you're expecting any semblance of theatrical content, you'll surely be disappointed. But those drinks, they’re divine.
Billed as a sequel, of sorts, to Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” the spirited Scrooge wants to throw a Christmas party but doesn't know how. He calls upon the spirits, or ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, for some help. Throw in some trippy time travel and fourth-wall location-bending, The Imbible: Christmas Carol Cocktails takes Scrooge through a brief history of holiday drinks. To put it bluntly, this is a confused concept. Anthony Caporale's writing is littered with unfunny recurring jokes that lean into moans by the end. For the theater person attending, the content can be frustrating. It's a dramaturgical nightmare. But the reality is the audience attending is present for the drinks. Accompanied by a history of holiday libations, the spin-off is, compared to the original, is formulaic. And that's fine. It's what the audience desires. That being said, The Imbible: Christmas Carol Cocktails could be immensely stronger had the writing been better. The first twenty minutes are spent as a giant set-up for the conceit that feels more like filler than necessity. If the “A Christmas Carol” parallels are important, creating a straight-up adaptation rather than a mixed sequel would have been best. If you look at character arc, Scrooge goes from happy to confused to happy. It's not that interesting. Had it been bah humbug Scrooge who goes on a similar journey to the source material but rather than see the various Christmases the spirits hammer in the teaching of drinks past, present, and future, the night would have made more sense. Simplicity is key when the night is about the booze. Less is more. And in the world of sequel, inserting quotes from the source material doesn't quite work. Musically, there were Christmas tunes a-plenty. Thematically, the music Caporale infuses don't always match the previous or upcoming action causing the wonderful songs to be transparent time-fillers for drink concocting or costume changes. The songs of the season occasionally featured some bizarre parody. No matter what, the arrangements from Josh Ehrlich are quite fun. Though a little more variety would have been exciting. Caporale may not be a storyteller but he certainly knows everything there is to know about alcohol. When it came to the history and science of the drinks, they showcased the strongest moments of writing. Paired with strong performers who bring excitement into those narratives, this is why The Imbible: Christmas Carol Cocktails exists.
It's rare that a writer-director combo successfully pans out. When it comes to comedy, the director tends to be the necessary litmus test to determine if the material is funny. But when the roles are combined, there's no voice of reason. When the improvised bits garner larger laughs than the scripted material, you know you're in trouble. The quartet of Kate Hoover, John Marshall, Andrew Orsie, and Morgan Troia not only have beautiful voices, they know how to find humor in weak material. They worked well off of one another, bringing cohesion to the stage and filling gaps when things inevitably went awry. As Scrooge, Andrew Orsie brought an adorable dopiness to the newfound fan of Christmas. Caporale continually had Scrooge lament that he was confused or didn’t know what was happening with the twisted plot. Orise managed to sell it. Jacob Marley, due to a Equity rules and a half-hearted joke, has to change his name to Barley. Taking on the tour guide of the night, John Marshall has impeccable timing. Marshall simply walks on stage and garners the easy laugh through expression and pose. Similarly, Kate Hoover is effortless in her approach. Morgan Troia had another difficult character to capture. Her arc was iffy but Troia shined in her vocals.
The Imbible: Christmas Carol Cocktails is a festive night with drinks that were fun and fabulous. It’s fast-paced cheriness that kicks off the season. If you can put aside the text, you’re bound to enjoy yourself. The drinks are worth the price of admission. And as an added bonus, your program features the recipes!