ST. PETERSBURG — In the middle of rehearsing A Christmas Carol, three actors decide they can't take it anymore.
"It's been done to death," one says.
Indeed it has. So begins Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some!), Freefall Theatre's answer to every theater's dilemma this time of year: "Must we continue to find ways to repackage Charles Dickens or It's a Wonderful Life, while selling this latest version as something new?"
Humbug, said playwrights John K. Alvarez, Michael Carleton and James FitzGerald, who designed a playful multicultural alternative: Actors would still do Scrooge and George and Mr. Potter and the Grinch, and audiences would still hear Jingle Bell Rock, along with as many other beloved holiday classics, or "BHCs" as they could possibly cram into approximately 90 minutes.
It's a cute idea, and Freefall throws its considerable talents into making it work. Patrick Ryan Sullivan's directorial debut gets an assist from artistic director Eric Davis, who designed the digital background projections starting with iconic London and moving into Dr. Seuss. Tom Hansen's lighting and Stephen T. Kraak's sound delivered the complete technical package.
Sara DelBeato, Dexter Jones and Michael Ursua use their real first names (they are playing actors, after all) as they shuffle dozens of roles. It's a long-running conversation weaving legends and myths across several continents. From Sweden's St. Lucia to Hanukkah ("They tried to kill us and we survived, let's eat"), the show offers trivia and corny jokes that seemed to amuse half the audience throughout.
The other half didn't crack a smile.
A possible subplot about marginalization emerges in "Gustav, the Green-Nosed Reingoat" — because the Rudolph song is trademarked — and continues through the Island of Misfit Toys, legends originally paired by Disney.
None of this is remotely funny, but DelBeato plays the deer and numerous other roles with elan. Jones plays a game show host in an overlong segment, the only redeeming aspect of which is a mathematical breakdown about how many homes Santa Claus would have to visit to get the presents delivered (800 per second). Jones also tap dances and does a 10-second cameo as Britney Spears in the Macy's Christmas Parade.
Ursua is less colorful but he makes a good Scrooge, plus he directs the music and plays piano. Look, no one said this cast isn't talented. But no amount of skill, on or off the stage, can save this show.
So what's a theater to do, faced with recycling the same old Christmas shows or finding something new that hits the right notes?
As one of the game show contestants said, "Beats the Dickens out of me." But this isn't it.
Contact Andrew Meacham at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.