What better way to usher in the Christmas season than with a production of “A Christmas Carol” or two? If you’re only going to see one version of “A Christmas Carol” this year, it should definitely be the production currently entertaining audiences at the Sacramento Theater Company, directed by Philip Charles Sneed, through December 24.
This musical adaption of the Charles Dickens’ classic was written by Richard Helleson and then-STC resident composer, David de Berry and orchestral “reconstruction” by Gregg Coffin. With a cast of 39, this is a holiday extravaganza certain to add a sprig of holly to the hardest of hearts.
This play is structured so that narration, straight out of the pages of the original, overlaps with the action, and the narration is delivered by actors who also move the set pieces around the stage as they verbally set up the next scene. The music is not intrusive, but adds just the right touch at just the right moment. The accompaniment is pre-recorded.
The utilitarian set designed by UCD graduate John Klonowski (with complementary lighting by designer Victor En Yu Tan) is gloomy, as befits a ghost story. There is just the right touch of fog to make it look spooky without engulfing the actors, which happened last year.
New to the Sacramento Theater Company is Richard Farrell in the role of everybody’s favorite curmudgeon, Ebenezer Scrooge. Farrell is fresh from eight seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and gives Scrooge just the right touch--just enough grit and growl without being over the top. His transformation at the conclusion of the story is delightful.
As Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s long-dead partner, David Silberman is a marvelously ghastly ghost, rattling his chains and issuing dire warnings to his old friend, as he tells Ebenezer that he will be visited by three ghosts who will try to help him see the mistakes he has made throughout his life.
(Aside: Marley says they will come every night for 3 nights at 1 a.m....however, it appears that they all come in one night, since the action begins on Christmas Eve and ends Christmas morning. However, I quibble.)
Suzanne Irving, another member of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, appears as the Ghost of Christmas Past, an ethereal looking wisp of a thing to guide Scrooge through the happier moments of his early life, as a child in boarding school (played by either Aubrey Harwell or Dylan Sneed). As Ebenezer watches his young sister Fan (Paige Silvester, repeating the role she played a year ago) singing “Home at Christmastide,” there is a brief softening of his heart as he remembers the young beggar child (Rebecca Scott) whom he shunned the day before. (Scott has a wonderfully strong voice as she opens the show with “Advent Carol.”)
Scrooge visits himself as a young apprentice (Matt Moore) to the ebullient Fezziwig (J.T. Holmstrom, who appears later as the Ghost of Christmas Present), and as the young man whose burgeoning love of money forces a break-up with his beloved Belle (Maggie Roesser, who later also plays Martha Cratchit).
Davis audiences will recognize Ebenezer, the young man, as Andrew Conard, who has delighted Acme Theater audiences for several years.
Holmstrom returns as the jovial Ghost of Christmas Present and accompanies Ebenezer to the home of his nephew (Michael Claudio), a man of modest means but whose heart seems full of love for every, even his miserly uncle.
At the home of his long-suffering clerk, Bob Cratchit (Allen Pontes) and his wife (another role for Suzanne Irving) Ebenezer has another tug at his heartstrings as he watches the crippled Tiny Tim (Christian Salmon). Others in the Cratchit family are Corey Porter as Peter, Alena Rose as Belinda, Aubrey Harwell as Edward, and Roesser as Martha.
The funereal Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Thomas J. Engstrom) doesn’t say much, but makes a lasting impression.
Charles Dickens described the holidays as “a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of other people below them as if they really were fellow passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”
As we move forward through this holiday season may we, like Scrooge, take those words to heart and be a little more kind, a little more forgiving, and a little more loving toward those around us.
Sacramento Theater Company’s “Christmas Carol” should be on everyone’s list of things to do to enhance their holiday spirit.