Montreal 2019 Review 'Little Dickens' performed by Ronnie Burkett

Centaur Theatre

Courtesy of the Centaur Theatre, Montreal

Joe Szekeres

A bit raunchy and adult in nature at times, The Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes tells a zany vaudevillian and “loose” adaptation of the Charles Dickens’ classic ‘A Christmas Carol’ with over 40 marionettes. The cabaret song styles throughout the nearly two-hour performance showcase Mr. Burkett’s bold and saucy show personality when he enters decked out in an ugly Christmas tree sweater. Mr. Burkett adores audience participation in this production so beware as the house lights come up periodically. If he spots you, he’s right off the stage and in the audience to drag you back up or as he says, “I’m so pleased you volunteered.”

At the top of the show, Burkett enters to talk to us for a few minutes to see who are return guests and show virgins. There were many of the latter (including myself). Off came the ugly green Christmas tree sweater and the show was on.

The production reminded me of the ‘The Lonely Goatherd’ sequence from the film version of ‘The Sound of Music’. I discovered later that Burkett’s love of marionettes was inspired by this film and this scene. The front curtain of the playing space contained two of what I’m assuming to be Burkett’s signature marionettes: Little Schnitzel and Esme Massengill. Mr. Burkett places himself at the top of the stage and moves around picking whichever marionette he needs. The production opens with a hilarious strip tease artist a la Gypsy Rose Lee.

The loose adaptation begins where we meet faded, has-been movie star and live entertainer Esme Masingill, a garish cross between Sunset Blvd’s Norma Desmond and Carol Burnett’s interpretation. The drunken, miserly and bitter Esme Scrooge meets three of the spirits this Christmas Eve who begin to show her the error of her ways and warn her to change. When we are introduced to the Cratchit family, the adorably freakish Little Schnitzel plays Tiny Tim with such sweet aplomb that I wanted to go up on the stage and pinch his facial cheeks.

Burkett kept wiping his forehead and brow as the nearly two-hour show is quite a workout for him. But I was in awe of his formidable stamina as he is a puppet master, set changer, curtain puller, songwriter and storyteller all in one. During his thank you at the end of the production, I saw and heard in Burkett’s voice a personable, humble and appreciative man who was pleased this opening night audience enjoyed themselves immensely.

Ronnie Burkett is a gift to all of us this Christmas/holiday season. Treat yourselves and enjoy.

LITTLE DICKENS

‘Little Dickens’ has been extended to December 21 at The Centaur 1, 453 St. Francois-Xavier, Montreal. For reservations call 514-288-3161. For further information, please visit www.centaurtheatre.com.

Running Time from 1 hour and 45 minutes to 2 hours with no intermission.
Performer: Ronnie Burkett
Musical Arrangements: John Alcorn; Stage Manager/Technical Director: Crystal Salverda

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