Theater Review: Civic gets into the spirits
“A Christmas Carol” is Charles Dickens’ endearing and enduring story of the miser Ebenezer Scrooge and how he finds redemption. It was an immediate success when first published in 1843, and was adapted for the stage almost immediately. Since then there have been some 50 play adaptations, and at least 28 film versions.
Part of the story’s enduring success is its ability to be revised without sacrificing the substance and meaning of the tale, as in Civic Theatre of Allentown’s production of “A Christmas Carol,” on stage through Dec. 17 at 527 N. 19th St., Allentown. This review is based on the opening night, Dec. 2, performance.
Adapted from the original Dickens novella by William Sanders and Sharon Lee Glassman, with the addition of music and dancing, this is the Civic Theatre’s 25th staging of the holiday offering with Sanders as the director.
The script has stayed true to Dickens, according to Sanders, by preserving 90 percent of the author’s words. It deviates from the original narrative ending, however, by placing Scrooge at the Cratchit home in the last scene.
Happily, Sanders provides ample creative casting variations, stage business and technical effects to keep the well-worn classic fresh and engaging. Especially noteworthy is the scene where Scrooge is encircled in fog by characters in his life, and the device of moving the bed on stage to represent flying backwards in time.
Sanders makes full use of stage, wing and aisle spaces in which to move his actors, giving the audience the feeling of being part of a 19th-century London street scene.
Will Morris merits triple kudos for his very functional set design, proper Victorian costuming for 120 cast members, and superb lighting effects. The two-tiered set provides more visually interesting movement for actors during street scenes, and provides an observation point from which Scrooge and his ghosts can look down on Christmases past and present.
Morris’ lighting effects wonderfully illuminate the mysterious visitation of shadowy specters, and just as perfectly transform scenes of holiday gaiety into ones of darkest gloom.
The complex and exhausting role of Scrooge is played by Mark Domyan, who despite some memorable moments, never reaches the degree of blustering meanness that befits his character, especially at the beginning of the play. His best scene comes near the end, when he discovers he is still alive and it is Christmas morning. He is truly the reformed Scrooge as he scampers gaily around his room, giggles to himself and draws laughs from the audience.
Remy Kayal as the Ghost of Jacob Marley steals the scene in the first act, in part because of eerie and magical special effects, but also because of fine acting. He dominates the stage, moving in every direction, visiting every space. He is at once remorseful and despondent; then equally eerie and intimidating.
The spectres who guide Scrooge through his past and show him the realities of present are among the delights of the evening. Crede Cooper is the ideal Ghost of Christmas Past. He is both spritely as he flits around the stage, and sympathetic as he reveals events Scrooge prefers to forget.
Denise Long is a delight as the Ghost of Christmas Present. “You have never seen the likes of me before,” she boasts, and she is almost right. With sparkles in her curly hair, and wearing a red hooped skirt with a horn of plenty strapped around her waist, she sings and sprinkles Christmas spirit everywhere. Her arm play to show the passage of time is clever.
Other players who deserve mention are Robert Wallace, who is every inch Mr. Fezziwig, the benevolent boss of Scrooge’s past; Susan Schlegel, as Mrs. Colby, Scrooge’s maid, and Robin Leisher, as Mrs. Dilber the charwoman. The ladies outshine themselves with their cackles and mischief in several vignettes.
Of course, the urchins steal the show. There are street urchins, and caroling urchins and party kids, and hat-tossing urchins. They sing and dance, are energetic and funny. There are dozens of them, and they are absolutely essential to the production.
Lest we forget the true meaning of Christmas, beyond the prize turkey in the butcher shop, Scrooge’s bag of gift toys and his generous pay raise to his assistant, the Civic Theatre production has the Cratchit children stage a short nativity scene to represent the birth of Jesus. “Christ is born today. Christ is born today.” It is a nice touch.
Tickets: Civic Theatre Box Office, 527 N. 19th St., Allentown; CivicTheatre.com, 610-432-8943