Give George Street Playhouse credit. Whenever possible they like to mix it up during the holidays. Artistic director David Saint doesn’t believe the world (or his audience) needs yet another regurgitation of “A Christmas Carol.” Saint prefers to create his own brand of joy and whimsy, and celebrate the season in New Brunswick with a bit of wackiness.
Several years ago Saint gave New Jersey audiences a hilarious take-off on the Dickens perennial, “Inspecting Carol.” And this year he has used Tchaikovsky’s music as a jumping-off point for a totally warped new musical called “The Nutcracker and I.”
This effort doesn’t measure up to its farcical predecessor in that it’s a wildly uneven enterprise, similar in this regard to lyricist Gerard Allessandrini’s prior musical parody, “Forbidden Broadway.” This time what Allessandrini’s done is concoct his own occasionally witty, often forced lyrics for Tchaikovsky’s famous score, which loosely fit into librettist Peter Brash’s goofy storyline. The conceit’s stumbling block, though, is that Tchaikovsky didn’t structure his music to function as a series of musical theater songs, and much of the score simply resists the imposition of lyrics on it.
So it’s left to director Saint to devise a staging that makes this less of an issue, and he has indeed pulled out all the proverbial stops in achieving that goal. Most importantly, the production benefits from a top-drawer cast led by the ever-funny Peter Scolari in a variety of roles; especially comedic is his Hindu cab driver on Christmas Day in a New York City snowglobe. (In context, that all makes sense. Sort of.)
It’s a show of hits-and-misses, yet one thing’s refreshingly certain about this musical that mixes tweets with Sugar Plum Fairies: as holiday entertainment goes, it just doesn’t get any more original or bizarre than this.