Review: 'Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some) at Phoenix Stage Company

Nancy Sasso Janis

  • Connecticut Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle

Oakville, CT - Back by popular demand to Phoenix Stage Company (now at Clockwork) is ‘Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some.)’ It opened Friday night in the PSC’s new home in Oakville and was the second of three holiday shows I had booked for my Thanksgiving weekend. This hysterically funny show once again features the talents of Ed Bassett, Ian Diedrich and Rob Richnavsky, as well as the nimble changing skills of stage manager Lori Poulin, all under the direction of Tim Phillips. I had seen this piece of holiday magic three times when it was on the PSC stage in Naugatuck, so Saturday night marked my fourth viewing, but with some timely tweeks and this stellar cast, it never gets old.

It is always fun to watch these three guys hurdle their way through a long list of “B.H.C.’s” (Beloved Holiday Classics.) Because there are so many they need to cover, they have to move very quickly and the laughs never stop. From a theatrical standpoint, this show written by Michael Carleton, James FitzGerald and John K. Alvarez is exhausting work for the three actors, who all have a ton of lines, innumerable costume changes and very little down time. I admire the stamina they bring to their roles for the third time.

The irreverent retellings of Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph, and even “Marley was dead…” are comical enough, but I can’t get enough of the improvisational running gags, the pop culture references and the fun poked at the audience volunteers, like “Hold on, Deniro…” to one who tried to exit too soon. This time there were references to the legality of medical Who hash and building a wall to keep out those pesky munchkins and “Oz is gonna pay for it.” Trust me when I say that there are many more.

Ed Bassett, the founder and managing director of the PSC, probably has to work the hardest as the dour member of the trio who simply wants to play Scrooge one more time. I always enjoy watching him react to the high jinx of his fellow performers, and in his bio he thanks them for “saying ‘yes’ (again) and to Tim and Lori for keeping the asylum calm.” Mr. Diedrich, a faculty member at Westover School, returns to this stage after his memorable role in ‘A Man of No Importance.’ In the past, Rob Richnavsky, the busy stage combat instructor and choreographer, has appeared in many more than nine PSC productions. 

Director Tim Phillips knows how to get the most out of every ‘bit’ in this show and led the carolers in their curtain speech/song dressed as Santa. Ms. Poulin deserves an award of some kind for always ensuring that each guy was in the right costume holding the correct props at the right time; she calls it a “pleasure to be the only hen in the rooster house during this production.” The stage manager and Mr. Bassett collected the multitude of costumes required and she alone found every one of the often-hysterical props. Mr. Bassett designed the original Charles Dicken’s set and adapted it to the Clockwork stage, and designed the lighting and sound. Caroler Brian Elser was the spot light operator. The other singers were Aric Martin and Ms. Poulin. 

During the intermission, Santa himself took a seat on the stage so that patrons could choose a prop and take a selfie with Santa.  Everyone raved about the Hardcore Cakeballs available for purchase in the lobby, and the delicious treats even earned a sly mention in the show. At the Saturday performance, I spotted the fabulous Melissa Stango and her husband Chuck, Mr. Elser’s dad Michael (‘The Last Supper’) and his wife Sheila (who slayed it as Contestant #3) and my coworker Donna Garceau. 

Keep in mind that this madcap romp through the holiday season contains some mild language and content and a discussion of the existence of you-know-who. ‘Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some)’ runs Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 11.

Pictured: (from left) Ed Bassett, Ian Diedrich and Rob Richnavsky doing 'Rudolph' Photo by Phoenix Stage Company