Monday, December 05, 2011

A Christmas Carol

On reviewing Sacramento Theatre Company’s “A Christmas Carol” last year, I made three suggestions for improving the show: turn down the thunder, cut the fog in half and get rid of the reverberation on Marley’s mic.

It’s nice to see how much power I have, since those are the same three suggestions I would give this time. While the thunder may be a tad less loud, there is still entirely too much of it. Some scenes are so filled with fog, it’s impossible to see the actors. They were, for example, well into the opening scene between Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas yet to come before I even saw the hooded ghost.

But what do I know?

As for Marley’s mic, Jim Lane is too good an actor to be sabotaged by a distorted voice that requires him to overact to make it effective. Nonetheless, Lane offers a suitably chilling performance.

The Dickens classic has been enjoyed in book, on stage, on radio and on screen for decades without all this technological assist and has done just fine. Why mess around with it now?

That said, however, the popular holiday classic is once again captivating audiences on Sacramento Theatre Company’s main stage.

This is STC’s specially commissioned 1987 adaptation of “A Christmas Carol,” by Richard Hellesen. Music was written by STC’s then-resident composer David de Berry. Hellesen uses the device of having the characters tell the story as they move sets and then move in to become the characters about whom they are speaking. DeBerry’s music does indeed sound like old Christmas music that you can’t quite place, but you’re sure you’ve heard somewhere before.

The cast is smaller than in some years (22 as opposed to 30 to 40 actors), and judging by the program bios, all are very happy to be in the show. Eight say they are “thrilled,” five are “excited,” two are “privileged,” one is “ecstatic” and one is “passionate” about the show!

It is such a delight to see Matt K. Miller back grousing about as everyone’s favorite grouch, Ebenezer Scrooge. Miller may be one of my favorite Scrooges, and after four productions of this show, he has had the opportunity to shape the role to fit him like a glove.

He is able to be as grumpy and mean as Dr. Seuss’ Grinch, yet when shown memories of his childhood and taken to watch his nephew and friends celebrating Christmas, he can display the innocent joy of a child. The scene of his almost, but not quite, dancing with his old love Belle (Hannah Zimmerman) was very touching.

Scrooge’s long-suffering clerk, Bob Cratchit, is played by Barry Hubbard and he makes a loving husband to his wife (Jackie Vanderbeck) and a wonderful father to their five children, the youngest of whom is, of course, the adorable crippled moppet Tiny Tim (Zac Ballard), who was as cute as he could be.

As promised by the ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge is visited by three spirits, who take him to witness various scenes from his past, the present and the possible future. Sydney Christoffersen (double cast with Bella Bagatelos) is the Ghost of Christmas Past. She is a second-year student with STC’s Young Professional’s Conservatory and obviously is a talented student who shows great promise.

The indomitable Michael RJ Campbell returns for his third time as the Ghost of Christmas Present, a larger-than-life spirit whose entrance is always the high point of the STC production.

Campbell is also seen in several ensemble roles and also as the ebullient Fezziwig, Scrooge’s first employer.

Jerald Bolden is the hooded Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (when you can see him through the thick fog). The ghost does not speak, but is really good at pointing ominously!

Others worthy of note in the cast include Emily Miller (double-cast with Meghan Greene) as Ebenezer’s sister, Fan. She sings the beautiful “Home at Christmas Time,” a touching ballad. Likewise, Courtney Shannon (double-cast with Marcos Orozco) is very moving as the beggar child.

And I think anybody with a character name like “turkey boy” deserves to get his name in a review. Good job, Dafydd Wynne! (Wynne does triple duty in this production, also playing Ebenezer the Child and Edward Cratchit).

It should also be noted that in addition to being Jacob Marley, Jim Lane also appears as several other characters throughout the evening.

The Ghost of Christmas Present exposes “ignorance” and “want” to Ebenezer to make him face the plight of the poor and destitute outside his own door. With street people shivering in the December cold along the streets of midtown Sacramento, we, like Scrooge, would do well to open our own eyes and do whatever we can to help wherever we can this holiday season.

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