Opening night of A Christmas Carol, The Musical
was on October 30, and I have to tell you, I wasn't really in the mood
for Christmas, any more than was Ebenezer Scrooge. But this show was so
utterly charming, so beautifully presented, that I quickly bought
everything it was selling. It whisked me away into an inspiring story
that would have delighted me even if I had seen it in July.
The name of the show was projected on the curtain
while we in the audience were taking our seats, and behind the words,
animated snow was falling. After the lively overture, the curtain opened
on a street in Dickensian London, and it was dazzling. The scene was
full of life and constant motion that gave the impression of a bustling
Indeed, the sense of place was perfectly crafted in
this production. Over the years, Zach Wilson's projections on the back
of the stage have gotten steadily more sophisticated with the addition
of a bit of animation and very high-quality graphics. With this show
there is the added effect of panning from one scene to the next, sort of
like what you can do with Google's "Street View"
panning left or right to see what is
on the other side of the street. Add well-designed set pieces and
wonderful period costumes, and the magic is complete: you are believably
on a street in 19th-Century London, or in Scrooge's bedroom, or at the
Christmas celebration in Fezziwig's Bank.
It was only minutes into the show when I wrote in my
notes, "The acting is just stupendous." I have yet to see the Mistletoe
Cast in which Zach Wilson plays the key role of Ebenezer Scrooge. Zach
is a wonderful actor, singer and dancer and plays Scrooge's nephew in
the Holly Cast. That is the cast I saw and in which Ryan van Overeem
plays Scrooge. This 19-year-old, who looks and acts more like a
30-something, couldn't have played the part more perfectly. He was
completely despicable even execrable
hunched over with a cane-assisted
walk, a scrunched up face, a raspy voice and a tolerably good British
accent. And through the course of the show, his transformation was
gradual and complete, evidence of his skill as an actor.
Van Overeem is an excellent singer to complete the
package, but there were so many good voices on display in this show.
That said, I was especially impressed by the beautiful voice that
Stephen Knoble brought to his character as Bob Cratchit. In fact I found
myself marveling at the extraordinary parade of talented kids. In one
scene, there was one after another delivering a few lines of a song,
each with an excellent voice.
Throughout the evening, I found the dialog and action
fast-paced. There's no opportunity in this production for your mind to
wander or for your attention to relax: there is too much going on and
it's all happening so quickly. Most significantly, though,
everything in this show is done with a sense of style and an attention
to detail. At one point 6 people are carrying a coffin across the stage
but it's not simple walking, even in lockstep. No, their forward
progress includes a little choreographed hesitation and step back. I got
the feeling that nothing in this show was done without thought about how
it could be performed in a more interesting way.
That was evident when Drew Matthews as Jacob Marley's
ghost emerged from the fireplace in Scrooge's bedroom to the
accompaniment of theatrical fog. His make-up, costume and moaning were
so scary that I would have expected little children in the audience to
cover their eyes. He was the first actor to "fly," and when he rose
above the stage, I think a lot of adults in the audience might have felt
a chill. Marley's big number was "Link by Link" in which he was
accompanied by about 20 "ghosts" who looked and acted more like zombies.
I saw the show on October 30, and the choreography in this scene was
just brilliant, the best homage to Halloween I could imagine. I couldn't
stop thinking about how much fun those kids were having performing this
As the story progressed there was a lot more flying by
Scrooge and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, and it was
all to good effect. I was especially impressed when a surprised-looking
Scrooge holds the hand of the Ghost of Christmas Past suspended 15 feet
above the stage while the moving projection of clouds behind them gives
the sense of truly flying through the air. By this time, I was thinking,
"There's absolutely nothing amateurish about this production." And
what's the opposite of "amateurish"? Professional. And what makes it
professional? Sure there is the native talent and hard work of all these
young people (and the contributions of backstage and offsite armies of
parents and other volunteers). But they are raised to professional
standards by the key professionals in this organization:
Director/Choreographer Debbie Wilson, Vocal Director Jennifer Wittmayer,
and Costumer Christine Martorana.
There is wonderful, memorable music in this show, too.
I think you'll remember or want to
remember songs like "A Place Called
Home" or "Christmas Together" and especially "God Bless Us Everyone." I
left the theater humming the latter song and had a tough time getting it
out of my head.
"Fezziwig's Annual Christmas Ball" is more than just a
musical number: it's a spectacle. But then just about every scene in
this show is a spectacle. And part of what made Fezziwig's Ball so
endearing was the way the choreography highlighted the dancing of the
littlest performers or the way, with the whole cast facing the back of
the stage, attention was focused on the young Scrooge and his fiancιe,
Emily. Every scene in this show is a masterpiece, an artistic
construction of set, lighting, blocking, projection, and costumes.
Leaf through the program, and you'll be surprised at
the ages of the performers. The leads tend to be late teens, but there
are many in the cast who are very young
and a couple are just 6 years old. And it's interesting to see how the
youngest are integrated into the show. For example, the first number
after intermission, "Abundance and Charity" begins with about 20 little
kids dancing and wearing boxes. Then older kids come out performing as
wooden soldiers. Then 25 tap-dancing Santa's helpers are added to the
on-stage cast. Another spectacle.
Earlier I mentioned the stylized carrying of a coffin.
One more of the many subtle yet impressive touches in the staging of
this show took place while Scrooge and Emily are singing in the
spotlight. Off to the side, out of the spotlight, the Spirit of
Christmas Past is standing, but not just standing. While the
other two characters are singing, she (Madison Sykes), with her arms at
her side, raises them up and down ever so subtlely during the course of
the song. Why? Because she's still there performing on stage. I get the
feeling that there is nothing static about EDMT performers when they are
on stage, and it makes for such a richer experience for the audience.
Fundamentally, A Christmas Carol, The Musical
is a touching story of redemption, caring for others, and learning
what's important in life. There are many moments of overflowing emotion,
and if you get through the show without having to wipe away a tear, then
you are truly made of steel. I know that early November feels early for
a Christmas show. But however you plan to celebrate Christmas
whatever entertainment you plan to
take in start with this. I'm betting
it will be the best, the most entertaining, the most inspiring, and the
most productive of true Christmas spirit of all the other performances
you may witness.