Karamu’s production of “Christmas is Comin’ Uptown” is the type of show that reviewers have trouble writing about. Over all it is a solid show with a glimpse here and there of brilliance while last night’s performance was plagued by so many problems it is hard to give an honest glowing report.
“Christmas is Comin’ Uptown” is a remake of the classic Dickens’ Christmas story “A Christmas Carol”. In this new version, Scrooge is a slumlord in Harlem who is foreclosing on an apartment building, recreation center and church. Bob Cratchit is his accountant and Marley (Jennifer Jacob) is a woman. The musical follows the book pretty closely but with a jazz, rock, gospel and hip-hop musical theme.
Here is where the trouble lies. The musical portion of the show is where the strength is. It is when the singing and dancing stops that the show tends to drag. The cast gives it their best shot but they are just not up to task in moving the story quickly along. In short, there are too many time gaps.
The show (which began late) starts out on an energetic note with the entire company singing. I would suggest that the “homeless man” be given a larger role (maybe a really good solo singing section to impress the cast and audience). It is after this number that the problems begin. Scrooge (played by Nathan Lilly) is plagued by technical problems with his wireless mike set-up during his singing numbers. It’s on, it’s off, and it’s on again. At two points during the show his transmitter box detaches and is seen dangling below his clothes. At some point he should have switched his rig back stage with a minor miked character since he was the principal and needed to be heard or at the very least turned the mike off and projected his voice more. As for the dangling box problem, this is what duct tape was invented for.
Another problem I had with the show was with the Scrooge character itself. There is no real defining change in demeanor from old Scrooge to new Scrooge in either voice or actions. Scrooge needs a mean course voice and actions (like playing the role hunched over) to begin with and a smooth gentle voice and attitude to show the transformation. There can even be various levels of meanness as the various ghosts change his ways.
In spite of the problems, it is the music that mostly shines. Most notable is Jacqueline Lockett as Sister Hopkins whose rendition of the gospel number “It Won’t Be Long” is worth the price of the ticket. The same is true of Glenn Burchette as the Ghost of Christmas Future who must have gotten his costume from the Bootsy Collins “Funkadelic Collection”. Glen plays it large and loud and is an absolute delight with his campiness.
Prude Alert: It’s based on Dickens so this is a safe bet to take the family. Parking is in a secure and guarded parking lot and the staff is generous and cheerful.
Shooting From The Lip (My Last Words): Karamu’s production of “Christmas is Comin’ Uptown” is a jazzy look at an old classic. If you overlook the flaws and concentrate on the musical numbers it is a delightful evening of fun. Help support Karamu and go see this one.
Performances are thru December 29, 2013 in the Jelliffe Theatre. Tickets are on sale now at Karamu's Ticket office for this Broadway musical.
Tickets may be purchased online at www.karamuhouse.org or by calling the Karamu ticket office at 216-795-7077 or in person.
Christmas is Comin' Uptown features a cast of local talent who are directed by Mr. Richard H. Morris, Jr. the Music Director, is Glenn Brackens and Mr. Desmond Davis is the Choreographer.
Performances are Thursday thru Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $25-$30. Senior, Student and Group discounts apply.
Give a unique gift of the holidays by purchasing tickets for friends and family to see this production.
Karamu House productions are supported in part by The Ohio Lottery,The Cleveland Foundation, The George Gund Foundation, The Ohio Arts Council and Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.