Kinder, gentler musical ‘Christmas Carol’ just too cheery
By Catey Sullivan For Sun-Times Media December 12, 2013 8:46AM
Larry Adams stars as Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol: The Musical,” at Theatre at the Center. | MICHAEL BROSILOW PHOTO
‘A CHRISTMAS CAROL: THE MUSICAL’
♦ Through Dec. 22
♦ Theatre at the Center, 1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Ind.
♦ Tickets, $38-$42
♦ (219) 836-3255;
♦ Run time: 2 hours, with one intermission
Updated: January 14, 2014 11:30AM
As the opening volley in the seasonal onslaught of Christmas stories, Theatre at the Center’s “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” offers a kinder, gentler though not entirely successful telling of Charles Dickens’ famous ghost story.
Consider the late Jacob Marley’s arrival. In life a prosperous usurer but in afterlife shackled by money boxes and chains of useless gold, he arrives down Scrooge’s chimney on Christmas Eve to show his old business partner the hellish errors of his ways. Under the direction of William Pullinsi, this show lends more humor than horror to Marley, especially after he summons a corps of cadaverous backup dancers who promptly commence to playing jump rope with the aforementioned chains.
Incorporating big song and dance numbers to the tale of a judgmental miser’s redemption at the hands of ghosts automatically lightens the darker aspects of the author’s scathing social critique. In “A Christmas Carol,” Pullinsi ramps up the jolliness even further, crafting a production that’s uniformly pleasant but utterly lacking in Dickens’ scorching urgency.
On the plus side, Alan Menken’s score sounds wonderful. As Scrooge, Larry Adams anchors the ensemble with a lush, sonorous baritone that’s smooth as silk, rich as fine chocolate. With William Underwood’s musical direction, the show is punctuated with gem-like a cappella interludes that seem to hang in the air and glimmer like tinsel.
On the minus side by cheerify-ing matters, Dickens’ story doesn’t have the impact it should. In short-suiting the all-consuming darkness of Scrooge’s grasping inhumanity and the brutally inhumane societal ills of debtors’ prisons, workhouses and child mortality that plagued Dickensian London, the light that breaks through seems weak and a tad inconsequential. With most scenes resembling a Thomas Kinkade painting or a Currier and Ives print, Scrooge’s long dark night seems more like a mild rebuke than a soul-changing cry for social justice.
“A Christmas Carol” has fine, memorable moments. Revisiting his young adulthood with the Ghost of Christmas Past (Megan Long, serving luminous Grecian Goddess realness), Scrooge becomes as crestfallen as the last kid picked for kickball when he’s unable to make contact with his old boss, Mr. Fezziwig (a rambunctiously jovial Ronald Keaton). At the top of the second act, a vibrant chorus of dancing peppermints and toy soldiers ably cavort through Linda Fortunato’s playful choreography. As the Ghost of Christmas Present, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis gets a fitting showcase for his booming pipes while positively radiating bonhomie. And as the Ghost of Christmas Future, Jen Donohoo is a whirling magenta vision, a feral ballerina dancing on Scrooge’s grave.
Pullinsi delivers a benignly pleasant “Christmas Carol.” And benign is not what you want from one of the 19th century’s most creatively crusading voices.