Two exclamation points in one title surely sets up great expectations on the part of the viewer. But any excessive anticipation is more than realized in Bah! Humbug!, the Imaginary Theatre Company's consistently inventive, good-natured update of A Christmas Carol.
Although the ITC, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' professional touring ensemble, spends most of the year traveling to area schools, occasionally the troupe makes a brief pit stop at the Loretto-Hilton. And how appropriate that this abridged, one-hour spoof of Charles Dickens' classic novella should be appearing in front of the set for All the Great Books (Abridged), which even includes a portrait of Dickens. Not that England's most popular novelist would recognize what's going on here: In terms of frantic tone and sassy style, Bah! Humbug! is less beholden to the original ghost story than it is to Scrooged, Richard Donner's 1988 takeoff starring Bill Murray.
No one here is much interested in Dickens' call for heightened social consciousness in an increasingly industrialized England. As is so often the case with American adaptations, this script by Jack Herrick is simply concerned with the conversion of the odious Ebenezer Scrooge. The script often draws on Dickens' original dialogue, yet Herrick's contemporary jokes fit smoothly. As directed by Bruce Longworth, the hour races by with nary a hitch. The songs are easy to take, with fun rhymes like "Ebenezer/squeeze her."
While we're on the subject of squeezing, it should be noted that as that "squeezing old sinner," Scrooge, Alan Knoll elicits laughs from the audience in a seemingly effortless manner that is as always a pleasure to watch. In multiple roles, the other three actors offer smooth support. Jason Contini is especially amusing as Bob Cratchit, who in this version has been crammed by Scrooge into an ATM. Anna Blair shines most brightly as the spindly-legged Ghost of Christmas Present. And as Tiny Tim, the charming Meghan Brown spends more time on her knees than any actor since Jose Ferrer in (the first) Moulin Rouge. All three actors undergo constant costume changes with apparent ease; the entire show evinces how much can be done with little.
Everything works great right through the curtain call, at which point the cast breaks into a rap version of the show's key song. Huge mistake. Last Saturday it left the audience bewildered which is not really how you want to send people out of the theater. But hey: Up till that final minute, everything was done so well and with such spirit, only a Scrooge would dwell on this minor lapse in judgment.