BWW Reviews: CATCO's A CHRISTMAS CAROL Proves Great Things Come in Small Packages
" A Christmas Carol" is one of those ubiquitous holiday productions performed so frequently that it becomes like Grandma's stale cut-out cookies- you choke it down with a smile on your face because you simply "must", check it off the never-ending list of holiday "requirements", and progress to the rest of the hustle and bustle. I've got to admit that in an all-too-rushed holiday season, my "Bah Humbug" factor was running higher than usual when I reluctantly agreed to take the family to see CATCO's "A Christmas Carol", expecting more of the tired, but faithful classic tale.
To my delight, like the predicted dusting of snow that unexpectedly brings a magical day off of school, CATCO's production of "A Christmas Carol" managed to not only be visually stunning and wonderfully entertaining, I actually left feeling significantly more "merry and bright". No small task for someone who hasn't managed to get the tree up yet....sigh.
This production is filled with so many novel approaches while maintaining the classic's integrity, that viewing it was much like unwrapping a gift. And don't let its humble 8 member cast fool you- good things do come in small packages. Arguably the best set designer in town, Michael S. Brewer creates a first impression in his lovely 1940's abandoned London theater set that immediately intrigues audience members as being both non-traditional and perfect, all at once. Director Joe Bishara combines the traditional tale with Patrick Barlow's twist- a group of actors who perform the play in said abandoned theater, and creates memorable scenes with a dynamic cast of only a few performers who play multiple roles, and a vintage marionette utilized as Tiny Tim.
Marcia Hain manages gorgeous period costuming despite frequent 10 second costume changes, and while not a musical, Emily Turner, Japhael Bondurant, and Ben Hartwig comprise the Chorus, whom (under Matt Clemens' musical direction) transition scenes throughout the play with acapella holiday tunes. This is another of those unexpected additions that adds fluidity and brightness to an oft dolefully serious script. Turner is wonderfully compelling as Scrooge's first love, Isabella, as well. Clemens creates several entertaining character roles, and presents Scrooge's nephew, Fred as not overly sappy, but genuine and wry- much more well-rounded than usual. Meanwhile, Dani Mann brings vivacious light-hearted energy to her role of the Ghost of Christmas Present, while Liz Wheeler is lovely as Mrs. Crachit and the Ghost of Christmas Past. Ben Sostrom takes on the role of an endearingly timid Bob Crachit, while also playing a menacing Jacob Marley's ghost with vigor. While this cast is tremendously talented, the role of Scrooge not withstanding, Ken Erney is brilliant as the cranky, overbearing miser, delivering him up with a bit of humor, and a refreshing touch of humanity. In all the versions I've seen, this is the first that I've actually pitied poor Scrooge and the cards life has handed him causing him to behave so miserably. Erney's Scrooge is undeniably mean and downright oppressive, but you can't help but like him, as Erney manages a glimmer of potential tenderness throughout, making his end transformation so much more plausible. The character development in this rendition is unlike any other version I've seen, with each role much deeper, richer, and more relatable than I have experienced before, making it stir the core of holiday sentimentality deeper than I had anticipated.
Admittedly, CATCO's "A Christmas Carol" caught me completely off-guard. It IS a holiday staple, and you would certainly be remiss in letting the holidays slip by without revisiting the classic tale. Children will love the marionette and perennial favorite storyline, but perhaps the best gift CATCO delivers with this production is to the adult audience members- that no matter how many holidays you've seen, how busy the season, magic comes in unexpected places, especially in Studio One at the Riffe Center.
"A Christmas Carol" plays through Dec. 22 at Studio One in the Vern Riffe Center, 77 S. High Street. General Admission is $41.00 on Thurs. and Sun.; $45.00 on Fri. and Sat. More information can be found online at www.catco.org.
PHOTO CREDIT: Dave Alkire