Theater review: "A Country Western Christmas Carol"

In the opinion of your humble theater critic, "A Country WesternChristmas Carol" isn't quite up to the standards of lunacy we've cometo expect from the Martin City Melodrama & Vaudeville Co.

At least that's what I thought until I saw the singing buffalo heads.

This frequently bizarre retelling of the Charles Dickens classic byJeanne Beechwood and Dan Hall follows the book's basic story-linefairly closely, but the action has been transposed to a sort ofcowboy-and-Indian neverland.

Martin City veteran Clint Griffey steps into the role of Scrooge, theowner of a saloon who hates Christmas. Griffey gets plenty of laughswith his mugging during a calorie-burning performance, but thehighlight of this two-act piece is Scrooge's nocturnal visit fromthree singing buffalo heads. They perform a number with this hookline: "So you better watch your step when the buffalo chips are down."

Things like singing buffalo heads threaten to catapult Martin Cityshows into the realm of post-modern performance art, but the scriptsremain firmly rooted in the world of bad puns and visual gags.

It's unclear who deserves credit for the lyrics - Beechwood and Hallor composer Jon Copeland - but the writing is often very clever. Soare the concepts for the songs. Scrooge's first big number is "TheCactus Shuffle," in which he extolls the virtues of cacti for beingprickly, just like he is. One lyric (and I paraphrase slightly) goes:"They say no man is an island/But this island don't agree/The cactushas always been a hero to me."

Later, Sarah Nickerson as Belle sings a lament: "You took the gizzardout of the chicken . . . In New York the Rockettes stopped theirkickin'." She concludes with sad resignation by singing, "I'm a Bellethat just won't ring."

Adequate supporting performances are registered by Lisa Mullinger andLogan Smalley, as well as Beechwood and Copeland, but nobody matchesGriffey's crazed intensity.

The accompanying musical vaudeville includes Martin City's annual"Water Glass Symphony," which is always amazing to watch. To seeactors tapping on glasses filled with water to create complicatedarrangements of popular songs never fails to impress. This year thecast performed two numbers, "Carol of the Bells" and "In the Mood."The audience, as usual, ate it up.

If you go: The Martin City Melodrama & Vaudeville Co.'s production of "A CountryWestern Christmas Carol" runs through Jan. 1 at Metcalf South Shopping Mall. Tickets: $10.99-$12.99; 913-642-7576;