The adventures of a grownup Tiny Tim set to wonderfully jolly music.
By Joel Benjamin
The Workshop Theater’s The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit is admirable on many levels. It is an ambitious, boisterous musical that imagines the life of Dickens’ Tiny Tim twenty or so years after the conclusion of A Christmas Carol. Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit and other Dickens characters keep Astonishing Times firmly rooted to its source, while the librettist, Allan Knee let his imagination fly, assembling a colorful cast of Dickensian characters to flesh out this rich story.
Timothy (a remarkable, charismatic Nathan Gardner) narrates the show. His lame leg has healed, except that it has a tendency to dance on its own, a peculiarity that pays off later. Timothy, at the behest of his beloved father, Bob (Robert Meksin, showing his incredible range playing four diverse characters), had been apprenticed to Scrooge (a soulful, richly emotional, Robert Stattel), but decides to go off on his own when he reaches adulthood, finding lodgings at Mrs. Poole’s (Virginia Roncetti) boarding house. Her tenants are all loveable oddballs, but it’s the lovely, but worldly Lucy (a radiant Hanley Smith), Mrs. Poole’s housemaid, who catches his eye and whom he chastely romances.
Timothy winds up accidentally joining a theatrical troupe led by the bombastic Grimaldi (a loveably over-the-top D.C. Anderson), where his dancing leg is finally put to good use. Grimaldi, uses poor Timothy as an unpaid gofer, demanding that he find his lost brother, Guido (Andy Ingalls, also turning himself inside out in four roles) and do all the grunt work leading up to a Covent Garden gala performance. Of course, there are major obstacles to getting the show on including egos, money and romantic complications. Timothy is forever changed by his new acquaintances and experiences.
The plot complications rival anything that Dickens could have thought of had he written a sequel to A Christmas Carol: family squabbles, funny Commedia-influenced acts, romance requited and unrequited and the death of a major character.
The songs range from the sweet “Bob & Tim #1 & #2,” Grimaldi’s “What I Want” (hints of Kander & Ebb), “As I Move Along” (hints of Sweeney Todd in its torrent of words), “The Music of Money” (with a few anachronistic references that pass by quickly), the wacky “Performance” and other assorted romantic ballads and eccentric ditties.
The entire cast is terrific. Whether their English accents are accurate or not, it’s difficult to tell, but they throw themselves whole heartedly into their various roles and seem to be having a ball. The rest of the cast: John Martello as the ditsy Mr. Goldsmith who can never find his teeth; Jeff Paul in several roles showing off an astonishing physical dexterity; Kendall Rileigh as a yearning, superannuated, slightly loose boarding house resident and an acrobatic performer in Grimaldi’s troupe, had a charming, graceful quality; Virginia Roncetti, totally convincing as two diametrically opposite older ladies; and Joanie Schumacher, touching as the caring Mrs. Linden.
The sets and costumes (Craig Napoliello and Kimberley Jean Windbiel), the well-integrated choreography (Madeline Jaye), the terrific lighting (Diana Duecker) and Thomas Coté’s thoroughgoing direction—involving much traffic control—all contributed to what is a very extravagant production for off-Broadway.
Nathaniel Beliveau, on piano, led the tiny, but sweet-sounding little band, completed by Andrew Nielson on cello and Silvio Scambone on woodwinds.
As good as the show is, it is a tad too long and may suffer from similarities to the now legendary Royal Shakespeare Company’s Nicholas Nickleby adaptation. But The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit compensates with immediacy, energy and the fun of discovering a new—sort of—Dickens tale.
*Photos: Gerry Goldstein
The Astonishing Times of Timothy Cratchit (through December 19, 2015)
The Workshop Theater
312 West 36th Street, 4th Floor East (between 8th and 9th Avenues)
New York, NY
For tickets call 866-811-4111 (OvationTix) or visit www.workshoptheater.org
Running time: two hours 45 minutes, including one intermission