A Christmas Carol (OST)
A Christmas Carol
By Charles Dickens
Adapted by Jim Helsinger
Directed by Michael Carleton
Musical Direction by Steven MacKinnon
Starring Steven Paterson, Paul Bernardo, Anne Hering and Steven Lane
Orlando Shakespeare Theater, Orlando FL
It’s a popular tale, and after a hundred plus years it’s been recast in as many ways as there are story telling forms: musical, cartoon, sock puppets, free verse, even ice capades. So how to add a fresh angle to this old chestnut? Adapter Helsinger chose to go full metal theater; he hangs the story on every trap door and fog machine and puppet that you’ve ever seen in the Margeson. The only thing missing is an aerial act. You may know the story but you will be impressed by this over the top presentation.
Ultra capitalist Ebenezer Scrooge (Patterson) is an old bully in love with money and skeptical of the new societal interest in the Christmas holiday. This formerly minor church holiday became a popular excuse to party and exchange gifts as England became an urban industrial power. Nephew Fred (Chris Crawford) drops by the counting house to invite Scrooge over for dinner, not so much because Scrooge will accept, but more to poke a stick in his greedy eye. Scrooge then grudgingly gives his clerk Bob Cratchit (Lane) a day off, with pay. Why? Perhaps a whiff of the future since it’s a bit out of his present character. Cratchit has a lovely day with his wife and 5 children; Fred does the same in nicer surroundings, and Scrooge gets to view the whole thing supernaturally. And like so many hard boiled sinners, when he converts, he goes all out.
The strength of tonight’s performance lies with the theatricality of the show. There’s easy stuff like snowflakes falling and dry ice fog swirling, then more exciting scenes with trap doors and moving stages, and real “wow” factor with giant puppets reminiscent of recent Halloween shows down the hall. But it’s the small stuff you’ll fall in love with: human door knockers, fake food and human furniture give this show heart. Mr. Lane is sweet as the dedicated and loving father; he’s put upon yet cheerful about it and if anyone deserves a raise, it’s him. Anne Hering positively glows as Mrs. Cratchit; she presents a pillow on a platter as the Christmas goose and bowler hat as the famous pudding and we all want a slice. Paul Bernardo appears as an ominous Marley; he struggles with amplified horror as stage hands pull his chains to drag him in to the bowels of the Shake’s basement. Marley had me convinced to do better, and it took that level of convincing to make Patterson’s particularity brutal Scrooge reform. But once he saw the light of human kindness, he came across as a bit silly.
The weakness of the story lies in adherence to the text, there’s a good bit of “tell, don’t show” as the cast in chorus explains long stretches of people’s inner mind set. We don’t mind reading about the weather and the motives and the agony in print, but on stage we need to see it. But what we do see is impressive and overwhelming and at its heart the message is the same: You have it pretty good, and many so not. Think of them as you cruise for 80 inch televisions this season. There are poor people out there, starving and forced to watch the Kardashians on a 28 incher. Reflect on them this Christmas season.
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