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Review: Moulin Scrooge Mash-Up Creates a Holiday Smash

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Moulin Scrooge Bug Theatre Moulin Scrooge mashes together the well-known story of A Christmas Carol with the plot of Baz Luhrmann's overheated Moulin Rouge, a film about the love between a writer and a consumption-wracked cabaret dancer named Satine. With songs. The primary claim to fame of the play's author, actor-comic-musician Peter Gwinn, is that he was once a writer on The Colbert Report and the host saluted his departure with a clip that showed Gwinn being tossed in effigy from the top of the studio building, bouncing off a car roof and then being run over twice by a minivan. This Moulin Scrooge production is a mash-up, too, the result of a collaboration between two Boulder groups: the Catamounts, a lively, witty company with roots in Chicago theater, and the Naropa-influenced Band of Toughs, who, according to their website, are committed to producing original, genre-smashing work that "puts the ass back in passion -- and then kicks it!"

See also: With FEED, the Catamounts Combine Food and Theater -- But This Is Not Dinner Theater

The two plots twine together with remarkable ease. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec functions as both participant and omniscient narrator, fuming at any chance remark that seems to insult his short stature. Scrooge undergoes his miraculous conversion and, having tried a little tenderness and found the results unsatisfying, decides to stay as miserly as ever: "I was wrong to deny who I truly am." Lovely Satine cavorts crazily on a trapeze and speaks incessantly of her yearning to be a true artiste. Her friend and fellow dancer Frau Frau, having reached the advanced age of 25 -- or thereabouts -- bemoans her wrinkles and failing body, coughs frequently, and fears that Scrooge will soon put her out to pasture. Despite his filthy clothes and stinking body, Bob Cratchit is our romantic hero. And under the guidance of musical director-accompanist Craig Schwartz, there are also the requisite three ghosts, a handful of supporting dancers and, of course, Tiny Kim.

The songs are jokey and full of arch references. Some of the dialogue is clever and some truly groan-worthy -- and an extended "who's on first" riff between Scrooge and the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and To Come is both. But it's the physical comedy that makes the evening, and you really have to admire the way these game and gutsy cast members hurl themselves into the action. If actors aren't willing to pull out all the stops, they just can't get away with a show like this, comprising nothing but gags, puns, surprises, jokes, non sequiturs and bits of plot so crazed that, when performed successfully, they keep the audience laughing almost nonstop.

Chris Kendall's Scrooge is quietly hilarious, and Max Schwartz plays Cratchit with an angelic and idiotic innocence. As the dwarfish Toulouse-Lautrec, Joseph Wolff Phillips has all kinds of fun shuffling around on his knees, his shoes attached to them and poking out in front, while the other characters gleefully mock this hoary old theatrical device. If you still get a little damp-eyed when fragile Tiny Tim says "God bless us, everyone" in conventional Christmas Carols, you'll hardly know how to take his alter ego here: As Tiny Kim, Joan Bruemmer-Holden lumbers around with exaggerated lumpiness on her crutches, falling, springing up, kicking her legs to unexpected heights, falling again and insisting she's about to become a real dancer under Satine's tutelage. Michelle Moore is a hoot as klutzy, self-deceiving Satine, and so is Jim Walker as self-doubting Frau Frau. Watching this pair's mutual shenanigans, I couldn't help thinking of another inspired comic couple: Patsy Stone and Edena Monsoon of Absolutely Fabulous -- strutting, self-deluded, and faking it all the way.

If you're in the mood for some lighthearted, lunatic entertainment, this is the Christmas show -- make that non-denominational holiday entertainment -- for you. And if you go on a Saturday night, there's a special treat in store, thanks to yet another mash-up: the Catamounts' passion for bringing together art and food. You'll be given a special ticket that admits you to Pirate Gallery across the street, where wine, a cocktail or a glass of small-batch craft beer await you, along with an array of treats both savory and sweet.

Moulin Scrooge, presented by the Catamounts and Band of Toughs through December 20, Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street. Tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com, thecatamounts.org or bandoftoughs.com.

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