It’s a tradition to tell performers “Break a leg!” before they go on, but in the new Mockingbird on Main production, the actor Bradley Robert Jensen may be taking that truism a bit too literally.
At a number of points in the entertaining, definitely kooky new version of “A Christmas Carol” (featuring just three people playing all the parts), Jensen falls or faints to the stage floor. Precisely why is a mystery, as the colorful, flamboyant actor seems to have a mind of his own in this wacky version, as writer/director Tristan Tapscott has adapted the perennially popular 1843 Dickens classic (with Doug Kutzli) into a breezy, madcap, sometimes confusing 75-minute holiday confection.
The real KSTT launched in 1946, originally produced from the sixth floor of the Hotel Davenport (the same building the Mockingbird occupies), and it ran at 1170 AM through 1993.
The cozy, cabaret-style theater becomes radio station KSTT Davenport and the annual radio presentation of “A Christmas Carol” in December 1950. However, a snowstorm is about to ruin everything and the rest of the cast can’t make it into the “studio.”
If it can go wrong, it does as two former vaudeville stars and a frazzled stage manager stumble to finish the world’s most beloved holiday tale. Despite abridging the familiar story (which transforms the miserly, mean old Ebenezer Scrooge into a much kinder, gentler man), this often slapstick new “Carol” at times veers off in tangents that have nothing to do with the plot.
Those are typically in the hands of the adorable Jensen (who is costume designer at Circa ’21), who not only risks injury in falls (where he appears unconscious and turns out fine), but at other points his character thinks he’s Ethel Merman and delivers an extended excerpt from the classic novel “The Great Gatsby” (again, why?).
The ringleader of this circus is Jeremy Littlejohn, whose unruly mop of hair and mutton-chop sideburns make him seem like he could fit in Dickens’ 19th-century London. He’s kept very busy over the course of the show, often playing Scrooge and Marley, as well as handling the very funny mock commercials — one sponsor is Benny’s Beverage Booth, Oil Change and Horse Grooming.
The barely controlled chaos is enlivened by co-star Taylor Lynn, who does most of the sound effects and is super cute throughout. In one scene, she’s left alone, plays more than one character and pretends to have a mustache (putting a finger over her upper lip) when playing a man — but you couldn’t see that on radio.
Because each of the actors is so darn likable, you root for them to make it and scale this mountainous theatrical challenge. The peak (dramatically and emotionally) is when Littlejohn as Scrooge is confronted with his own engraved grave in a visually striking scene. He cries out “I can change!” and “Have mercy on me!” Littlejohn’s honest repentance and seeking forgiveness is genuinely inspiring and we celebrate Scrooge’s literal new day after this dark night of the soul.
Tapscott (who has written a 2012 book for a musical “Christmas Carol”) is clearly a fan of the source material, and fortunately he doesn’t have the trio of performances simply stand, holding scripts. It’s much more interesting and fun than that.
The last performances will be at 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16 and Saturday, Dec. 17 at the Mockingbird, 320 Main St., Davenport. The theater has a “Pay What You Can” model in an effort to make a night at the theater affordable for all.
For more information, visit the Mockingbird website.