Kinder, gentler musical ‘Christmas Carol’ just too cheery
BY CATEY SULLIVAN For Sun-Times Media November 19, 2013 12:34PM
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 Rd., Munster, Ind.
♦ Tickets, $38-$42
♦ (219) 836-3255; www.theatreatthecenter.com
♦ Run time: 2 hours, with one intermission
Updated: December 10, 2013 6:16PM
As the opening volley in the seasonal onslaught of Christmas stories , Theatre at the Center’s staging of “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” offers a kinder, gentler telling though not entirely successful telling of Charles Dickens’ famous ghost story.
Consider, for example, the arrival on the scene of the late Jacob Marley. In life a prosperous usurer, in afterlife shackled by money boxes and chains of useless gold, he arrives down Scrooge’s chimney on Christmas Eve in order to show his old business partner the potentially hellish errors of his ways. Under the direction of William Pullinsi, there’s 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 Dickens’ 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: The Musical,” 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 and rich as fine chocolate. With musical direction by William Underwood, the production is punctuated with gem-like a cappella interludes that seem to hang in the air and glimmer like tinsel.
On the minus side: By cheerifying matters to this degree, Dickens’ story simply doesn’t have the impact that it should. In short-suiting the all-consuming darkness of Scrooge’s grasping inhumanity — and by extension, the brutally inhumane societal ills of debtors’ prisons, workhouses and child mortality that plagued Dickensian London — the light that eventually breaks through seems weak and a tad inconsequential. With most scenes resembling a Thomas Kinkaid painting or a Currier and Ives print, Scrooge’s long dark night seems more like a mild rebuke rather than a soul-changing, cry for social justice.
That said, “A Christmas Carol: The Musical” has plenty of 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 is 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.
In all, 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.