A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens * Adapted by Richard Hellesen * Music by David de Berry * Directed by Melissa Rain Anderson * DCPA Theatre Company at the Stage Theatre, 12/20/17
Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843. It quickly became such a success that the novella hasn’t been out of print since. It was so popular that while Dickens was alive, he gave public readings of a condensed version of the book every year until his death in 1870, 127 readings in all.
The Denver Center for the Performing Arts has carried on the Dickens tradition 25 times since 1990, with a full production of A Christmas Carol. It’s a local favorite, having been enjoyed by 820,000 audience members over the years. Dickens’ story is also a family favorite for the Metawitches, especially Mr Metawitches. He watched the 1951 British film “Scrooge,” starring Alastair Sim, every year as a child. We still watch the movie, but try to switch it up with live productions, too.
This year we took in the Wednesday afternoon matinee performance at the DCPA on December 20, a bizarrely warm day with a high of 70 degrees. But never fear, it was winter in the theatre, with all of the Christmas spirit one could want, and even a little snow. This is an exuberant production with a talented, enthusiastic cast that draws the audience into the magic.
The Stage Theatre has a thrust stage, which extends into the audience on three sides, bringing the action right up to the seats and engaging the audience from the beginning. To further the feeling that the audience is part of the show, cast members frequently run through the audience from several directions, and even lead the audience in song from the aisles. It’s an intimate theatre, so everyone gets a chance for a close up with a character or two at some point.
The cast themselves are the main attraction. Sam Gregory, playing Scrooge for the second year in a row, finds that important balance between professional grouch and joyful rebirth. His quick, flexible physicality successfully communicates Scrooge’s state of mind to even the young children, but he was also charming and charismatic enough to draw in the adults.
Brian Vaughn, as Bob Cratchit, is a treasure, the sweetest clerk and father you could ever want. I totally cried at the thought of him losing his beloved Tiny Tim. Vaughn embodied the warmth and optimistic caring that is so important to making Bob the heart of his family, and showing us the complete opposite of Scrooge that’s been sitting next to him for years.
Michael Fitzpatrick and Leslie O’Carroll both shone as Mr and Mrs Fezziwig during the Fezziwig’s Christmas party. They played off each other during their playful comedy bits delightfully, and made the Christmas Party a highlight of the show. In fact, everything about the Christmas party made it a highlight, from the choreography to the costumes.
Jeffrey Roark deserves kudos as the Ghost of Jacob Marley for his sheer commitment to the role. He has the best entrance in the show, a hunched back, a lot of chains that he has to remember to rattle while saying his lines in a spooky ghost way, and he’s in full ghost costume and make up. Even though we knew his entrance was coming, he still startled every single one of us. I’ve always thought that Marley gets a bit of sadistic pleasure from haunting Scrooge, and Roark doesn’t spare his old business partner any sympathy.
Latoya Cameron adds a vibrant but motherly presence as both the Ghost of Christmas Past and Mrs. Cratchit. As the Ghost, she eases Scrooge into his haunting with a touch of gentleness, while as the practical Mrs. Cratchit she tries to contain her simmering rage against Scrooge while supporting her tender-hearted husband. Cameron brings compassion and strength to both roles. She also gets one of the best costumes, as the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Tiny Tim is being played by a girl for the first time, young Peyton Goossen. She was fantastic. Given the centuries long tradition of casting men in female roles, which continues to this day, such as the role of Edna Turnblad in Hairspray, or Louie Anderson as the mother in Baskets, it’s high time that we ladies had a
little lot more turnabout.
The sets (by Vicki Smith), costumes (by Kevin Copenhaver), and overall production design were very well done. There is a liveliness that carries through the entire production that never becomes overblown. The music is either traditional carols or original music that blends with the carols. The lighting (by Don Darnutzer) continues the theme of an idealized Victorian Christmas, and there is a judicious use of projections. There are certain key moments when sound is crucial to this story, and the sound designer (Craig Breitenbach) came through with a bang in this production.
But it’s the script, staging, and choreography (by Christine Rowan) that really make this production sing. The script keeps the scenes and the actors moving, with frequently rotating narrators, and parallel, alternating scenes highlighting important themes. The entire stage and theatre are utilized, from the back rows of seats to the bandstand. Lines that could have been delivered by a single, static narrator are instead delivered by three or four, performing choreographed movements, and sometimes singing the lines, in harmony. It’s a feast for the senses.
After seeing this production, it’s easy to understand why it’s become a Denver tradition. The Metawitches family loved it, even Mr Metawitches, the pickiest connoisseur of Christmas Carol retellings. The show is an original and creative take on the story, while also being very traditional, which is quite a feat.