Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Christmas Carol

Matt K. Miller as Ebenezer Scrooge and Gregg Koski as the ghost of Jacob Marley
perform in Sacramento Theatre Company's 2017 production of “A Christmas Carol.”
Charr Crail Photography/Courtesy photo

It is difficult to imagine a Sacramento Theatre Company production of ‘A Christmas Carol’ without Matt K. Miller as Scrooge. Performing the role for the sixth time, he is the stingiest, meanest, grinchiest Scrooge there ever was — but after his reformation, his child-like enthusiasm for having not missed Christmas after all is infectious and never fails to bring a tear every time I see it.

This musical version of the Dickens classic, directed by Michael Laun and Michael Jenkinson, is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and returns to the STC stage after a five-year absence. Sacramento Theatre Company commissioned this musical by Richard Hellesen and David de Berry in 1987. Since then, the work has been widely performed, with perennial productions in Rochester, N.Y.; Denver; Dallas; Baton Rouge, La.; and Phoenix; among other communities.

Greg Coffin modernized the music a few years ago, and re-orchestrated the soundtrack for the 25th anniversary production. (The orchestration is recorded; no live orchestra was used … but you’d never know it.)

This is a pleasant musical with tunes that might not be memorable, but are thoroughly enjoyable. There are 35 actors mentioned in the biography, but many roles are double-cast to allow more of STC’s Young Professional’s Conservatory program to appear on stage.

Miller’s real-life son, Max Miller, for example, appears as Tiny Tim, alternating with Miller Traum. Max made his stage debut in this role five years ago, at age 4, and is now a seasoned professional.
The set by Renee Degarmo and Jarrod Bodensteiner is a wonder, with large pieces that roll or rotate while actors walk across them, telling the Dickens story and morphing into the characters singing the songs about the story.

That it works without a hitch is a miracle, though there was a slight problem that stopped the show cold for several minutes the night we went. The actors left the stage and the audience went into the lobby, and when the problem was fixed, all returned and the actors continued as if nothing had happened.

Michael Jenkinson plays Scrooge’s long-suffering clerk, Bob Cratchit, who must endure the conditions under which he works because he has a family of six at home — his wife (Aviva Pressman) and five children, including Tiny Tim (a good performance by Traum, whose “God bless us every one” rang out clearly).

Despite the hardships of his job, Cratchit maintains a happy disposition and greets Scrooge’s ebullient nephew Fred (David Weidoff) with good wishes for the coming holiday, though Scrooge growls and sends his beloved sister’s only child away.

Dominique Lawson and Jake Mahler are the two subscription gentlemen, soliciting funds for the poor. Their reaction at the end of the show when Scrooge reveals the contribution he wants to make to atone for many years when he did not contribute is perfect.

Gregg Koski is the chain-wearing ghost of Scrooge’s old partner, Jacob Marley, returning to Earth to warn Scrooge of what is in store for him if he does not begin to mend his ways. His interpretation is perhaps more befitting a Halloween spook than a Christmas specter, but he puts his whole soul into it.
As promised, Scrooge is visited by three spirits. The first, the Ghost of Christmas Past (eighth-grader Sarah Arata in her first Main Stage production, alternating with 14-year-old Fiona Gillogly) leads Scrooge through the happy memories of his past where he sees himself as a child (Ian Kennedy, alternating with Sebastian Fernandez), and, first, apprentice and then young man (Will Block), who definitely shows the beginnings of the cold, unfeeling Scrooge that he will become in later life.
Scrooge enjoys reliving the festivities at the shop of his jolly employer Fezziweg (Jake Mahler), who shows how happy he can make his employees with not much money at all.

Scrooge then sees the sad change when money became all important to him, ruining his relationship with the love of his life, Belle (Tyler Traum). Hints of regret begin to tug at his conscience.

Jake Mahler returns as the exuberant Ghost of Christmas Present, showing Scrooge the reality of life in the present.

I have seen this show many, many times and have never been as affected as I was this time listening to this ghost talk about the children of want and ignorance: “This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

It has always seemed just a part of the script for me, but sadly in this day and age, with education programs and children’s welfare in danger, it seemed more prophetic.

By the time of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Zane Boyer) arrives, Scrooge is ready to atone for his past sins and lead a good, blameless life.

Sacramento Theatre Company’s “A Christmas Carol” is a long-standing holiday favorite and it is wonderful to see it back on the STC stage again. It’s the Christmas show that everyone should see, at least once.

Scrooge (Matt K. Miller) celebrates his new found outlook on life with Bob Cratachit (Michael Jenkinson) 
and Tiny Tim (Max Miller) in Sacramento Theatre Company's production of "A Christmas Carol."
Kelly Christoffersen/Courtesy photo

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