On That Note! focuses on the individual artists who come together in the process of creating a work of musical theatre. This week, Michael Sharp shares insights – as both actor and director – on a beloved Washington-area tradition: A Broadway Christmas Carol, at MetroStage through December 28.
As punctual as the Ghost of Christmas Present, A Broadway Christmas Carol has been hitting the boards every holiday season for nearly a decade, first at Round House Theatre in Bethesda and now at MetroStage in Alexandria, where it’s in its fifth year. Actor Michael Sharp has appeared in most of those productions, and now serves double-duty – as director and performer.
Given some creative license by the show’s creator, Kathy Feininger, Sharp makes sure the show stays fresh. “People come back every year,” he says. “I want to give them something new, something that will take them by surprise. Usually I run it by Kathy first, but this year, I begged her just to wait until she saw it. I wanted to surprise her. And she trusts me, which is great.”
The surprise came when Scrooge is first confronted by the ghost of Jacob Marley, his former business partner. In this year’s twist on the Dickens tale, it’s a moment accompanied by the song “Trouble,” from The Music Man. “Kathy loved it,” Sharp says, with a touch of relief. “And she saw how much the audience loved it too. I love that she trusts me.”
Performed by three actors accompanied by solo piano, A Broadway Christmas Carol is built upon such silly moments, where new lyrics are applied to familiar show tunes. (Sharp describes the evening as “a cross between Forbidden Broadway and The Carol Burnett Show.”) Highlights include Scrooge singing a revised “We’re In The Money,” from 42nd Street, the Ghost of Christmas Past singing “Try to Remember” from The Fantasticks, and Tiny Tim singing a rendition of “Tomorrow” from Annie.
Tim is one of the many roles Sharp tackles in the show. “People say I remind them of Chucky,” he says, referring to the iconic horror-movie doll. “I have this red wig and this blue hat and a crutch, and I’m singing ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll getcha tomorrow...’ I can see people in the audience literally crying because they’re laughing so hard.”
He admits that he and his cast walk a fine line between skillful farce and theatrical disaster. “It’s easy to step over that line,” he says, “but I’ve done the show so many times that I know what works and what doesn’t. I’ve tested the material. I’ve tweaked it when it needed tweaking.” The pay-off is clear in audiences who return each year, often staying to chat about the latest innovations. And the future is bright. “Next year,” Sharp says, “we’ll have a nice new set.”