Misconceived romcom may appeal to Wham! fans

Last Christmas
Things start looking up for Kate (Emilia Clarke) after she meets Tom (Henry Golding) in Last Christmas. (Universal Studios)

By Richard Ades

Take the trappings of a romcom, add a dash of A Christmas Carol, set the tale in a festively lit-up London and fill the soundtrack with a whole bunch of George Michael songs. What you end up with is a holiday movie that’s guaranteed to appeal to—well, George Michael fans.

It’s hard to see who else would be attracted to the gauzy, glittery confection known as Last Christmas. Especially after the flick throws in a last-minute twist that is likely to please no one.

Co-written and produced by Emma Thompson, the story centers on Kate (the lovable Emilia Clarke), a young woman who is spiraling downward for no reason that is immediately apparent.

Maybe it’s because she works as an “elf” in a Christmas-themed store but really wants to be an actor. Or maybe it’s because she can’t stand being around her mother (Thompson), who insists on singing downbeat songs from their native Yugoslavia.

Then again, the store is run by a Chinese immigrant named Santa (Michelle Yeoh) who is supportive and patient even when Kate screws up. And her mother is a kind woman whose main fault is doting on her wayward daughter. So what is Kate’s problem?

Eventually, it comes out that her doldrums began after a health crisis that would have killed her if she hadn’t received a heart transplant. But again, it’s not quite clear why the ordeal has left her feeling depressed rather than lucky to be alive.

No matter. Things start looking up after Kate meets Tom (Henry Golding), a buoyant stranger who encourages her, literally, to start looking up—the better to discover overhead surprises she otherwise would have missed. She quickly grows to love this mysterious stranger who seems too good to be true.

Uh-oh. If you’re a romcom fan, you’ll know that can only mean their relationship is about to hit a snag, though it’s probably not the kind you envisioned.

Last Christmas is directed by Paul Feig, who helmed 2011’s entertaining Bridesmaids and 2016’s disappointing Ghostbusters. Here, he compounds the script’s problems by turning London into a sparkling wonderland where even homelessness is a joyful experience. He also stops the action frequently for perky music video-style montages. None of this helps us to understand miserable Kate or her need for a savior like Tom.

London, of course, was the setting for Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, the classic tale of a miser who finally learns that the purpose of life is to help others. Last Christmas tries to teach a similar lesson, but it mostly gets buried under the glut of glitz, jollity and George Michael tunes.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

Last Christmas (PG-13) opens Nov. 8 at theaters nationwide.

Mythical ogre stalks kids in musical yuletide tale

A scene from Short North Stage's production of Krampus, a Yuletide Tale (photo courtesy of Short North Stage)
Krampus (JJ Parkey, center) terrorizes Flora (Emma Lou Andrews) and Bruno (William Gorgas) while St. Nicholas (Edward Carignan) watches on (photo courtesy of Short North Stage)

By Richard Ades

Christmas, at its essence, is a holiday devoted to hope and redemption.

Thus, it’s not surprising that redemption is at the heart of the granddaddy of all holiday yarns, Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. And it’s also at the heart of Krampus: A Yuletide Tale, a musical that’s wrapping up its world-premiere run this weekend at Short North Stage’s Garden Theater.

Another similarity to A Christmas Carol: The road to redemption is a scary one indeed, probably too scary for small children. But for adults and mature youngsters, Krampus is a bracingly original journey.

With music by Nils-Petter Ankarblom (who also leads the three-piece band), and book and lyrics by Ankarblom and Carrie Gilchrist (who also directs), Krampus feels like an instant classic. The songs are beautiful and varied, and the story is thought-provoking and involving.

The title character (JJ Parkey) is a demon-like figure from Austro-Bavarian folklore who is said to kidnap and punish naughty children during the Christmas season. In this story, he sets his sights on siblings Flora (Emma Lou Andrews) and Bruno (William Gorgas), the offspring of penniless widow Anna Schlecht (Stephanie Prince).

Flora and Bruno aren’t really bad kids—they simply make a bad decision in order to help Anna avoid being evicted by their money-grubbing landlord, Herr Ulrich (Luke Stewart). But this momentary lapse is enough to remove them from the good graces of St. Nicholas (Edward Carignan), the forerunner of our modern Santa Claus.

Contributing to the tale’s charm is the intimate way it’s presented. Viewers sit on the stage of the Garden’s big auditorium, placing them a handful of feet away from Carignan’s storybook-like set. The imaginative costumes (also designed by Carignan) and the dramatic lighting add to the magical atmosphere.

The only production’s only technical shortcoming is that the band occasionally overpowers the vocals. This is mostly a matter of sound mixing, but Prince adds to the problem by singing some of her lines at a nearly inaudible level.

In the two showiest roles, Parkey and Carignan are spectacularly successful. Parkey makes a fearsome but somehow vulnerable Krampus, while Carignan is a surprisingly officious St. Nicholas. (Those of a spiritual bent may read religious significance into the implication that the mythic figures are but two sides of the same coin.) Both actors sing beautifully, but Carignan’s rich voice is put to particularly good use on St. Nick’s introductory solo, On This Night of December Fifth.

Among the human characters, Andrews’s Flora is the most engaging, but all of the cast members display heart and commitment.

Any new work can benefit from a tweak or two, and Krampus could stand to whittle down some of its sappier elements. Otherwise, this new work is just about perfect.

As I said, an instant classic.

Short North Stage will present Krampus, a Yuletide Tale through Dec. 20 at the Garden Theater, 1187 N. High St., Columbus. Show times are 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes. Tickets are $25, $15 for children. 614-725-4042 or shortnorthstage.org.