Review: ‘The Imbible: Christmas Carol Cocktails’ at The Producers Club Theaters

Now back for its fourth year, The Imbible’s Christmas Carol Cocktails, inspired by Charles Dickens’ beloved novel of 1843, is becoming a favorite New York tradition for anyone (over 21!) interested in getting into the spirit of the holidays by enjoying a few freshly-mixed cocktails, hearing all about the history and ingredients of the most popular seasonal libations of the past, present, and future, and being joyfully entertained by an original concoction of story and song (book and new lyrics to old carols by master mixologist and entertainer Anthony Caporale, with arrangements by Josh Ehrlich). Presented at The Producers Club Theaters, imbibing has never been so educational and learning has never been so zany!

Promotional image from a previous production. Photo by Russ Rowland.
Promotional image from a previous production. Photo by Russ Rowland.

Produced and directed by Caporale and Nicole DiMattei, the now-generous and festive Scrooge awakens the morning after his spectral visits and new-found socialization, wanting to throw a party “just like old Fezziwig!” Unfortunately, he’s clueless about what drinks to serve and how to make them, so with the help of Marley (now calling himself Barley) and the cross-temporal Spirits of Christmas, he gets some valuable lessons in mixing cocktails from then, now, and time to come that are sure to be a hit with his guests, and with the audience (full-size samplings of all three are served up by the cast and included in the ticket price, and the recipes are printed in the program, so you can make them at home).

In the signature style of The Imbible (also enjoyed in the troupe’s A Spirited History of Drinking and Day Drinking: The Brunch Musical, both currently playing open-ended runs at New World Stages), the fun- and fact-filled narrative is equal parts silly and smart. In addition to the alcohol-based follow-up spoof of A Christmas Carol, the high-octane comedy is filled with witty self-referencing jokes about New York (advising tourists that the natives “aren’t mean, we just have things to do” and cautioning them not to stop dead in the middle of the sidewalk, they “need to pull over”) and the theater (including tongue-in-cheek reminders about the rules and regulations of Actors’ Equity, production rights, and public domain), audience participation (with a limited number of premium-ticket on-stage seats available for each performance and a competitive singalong round of a thematically-revised “The Twelve Days of Christmas” for everyone to join in), and wacky costumes and props (a cow suit and science-lab beakers and goggles among them). But it also contains well-researched information about the origins and development of the featured cocktails, tracing syllabub back to the 13th century and salted drinking cocoa to Meso-American cultures of the Pre-Columbian era, and employing liquid nitrogen to create a futuristic frozen wassailtini, supported by slide projections and commentary from expert time-travelling figures of the different periods.

Maryanne Burr, Craig Franke, Patrick McDermott, and Elaine Baez. Photo by Deb Miller.
Maryanne Burr, Craig Franke, Patrick McDermott, and Elaine Baez. Photo by Deb Miller.

This year’s all-new cast (Craig Franke as Scrooge, Patrick McDermott as Barley, Elaine Baez as Brandy, and Maryanne Burr as Islay – the names of the three supporting characters derived from some of the liquors used in the recipes) delivers the material with rollicking energy and delightful enthusiasm (despite some minor mishaps with the props, an occasional missed harmony, and a few shaky lines of dialogue in the first public performance I attended), as they interact with each other, engage the audience, actively move around the stage and the aisles, perform (under the music direction by Robert Cowan) a cappella renditions of such holiday classics as “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” modern-day Christmas songs like “Let It Snow” (with a comical nod to the Me Too movement), and hilarious rewrites like “O Come All Ye Tourists” (which even includes clever new lyrics in Latin). Among the most memorable bits are the big reveal of the etymology of eggnog, laughably intoning the word grog repeatedly, and the uproariously understated monologue of the Spanish missionary Fra de Sahagún in a monk’s robe.

If you enjoy laughing, drinking, listening, and learning – and maybe even being part of the show – Christmas Carol Cocktails offers it all in the same place for a single price. So don’t be an old Scrooge; join The Imbible’s party – it’s a whole lot of holiday fun!

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes, including an intermission.

Christmas Carol Cocktails plays through Saturday, December 29, 2018, performing at The Producers Club Theaters, Royal Theater – 358 West 44th Street, 2nd floor, NYC. For tickets, call (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online.