BWW Reviews: Renaissance Players' A CHRISTMAS CAROL, THE MUSICAL Offers Tuneful Holiday Diversion

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Ever wonder how those other Cratchit kids must have felt cast in the shadow of their younger brother Tiny Tim's star-making turn in Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol? Let's face it, the kid's a ringer: he's lovable, cute and wise beyond his years and his health, or lack thereof, make him a sentimental favorite of audiences – and clearly, a favorite of his parents. While poor Martha is off being apprenticed to a milliner (who, granted, gives her a day off for Christmas), Tiny Tim is treated tenderly and attentively by dear ol' mum and dad (who fairly dotes on his youngest offspring-now even I can understand why my older siblings dislike me so).

And while he is not the central focus of Dickens' novella-rather the spotlight falls squarely upon that miserly Scrooge guy-the story of Tiny Tim's near-deification and his subsequent recovery from a certain-to-be fatal malady might provide fodder for writers looking for a new take on the story. Since its 1843 publication, A Christmas Carol has provided gist for the mill of writers all over the world, seeking to capitalize on the timeless tale for entertainment purposes (and the resulting cash cow for theater coffers).

In particular, Dickens' A Christmas Carol has provided much inspiration for the theater, including the musical version created by Alan Menken, Lynn Ahrens and Mike Ockrent for presentation at Radio City Music Hall from 1994 through 2003. The Renaissance Players, the community theater company at Dickson's Renaissance Center, brings the musical to Tennessee audiences for a 2011 run that proves to be an entertaining, holiday season diversion that brims over with joy-filled enthusiasm and the right amount of heartfelt sentiment to make it a likely to become an annual tradition.

Interestingly--playing up the whole Tiny Tim v. The Cratchit Kids scenario-Menken, Ahrens and Ockrent include a musical number entitled "You Mean More To Me" that Bob Cratchit sings to his youngest child, extolling the tyke's virtues and proclaiming his undying devotion to the youngster. Forget those other layabouts--Martha can sew fake cherries on all the bonnets in England so far as her father is concerned and that oldest boy can go work in Scrooge's counting house if he wants-Tiny Tim is the true star of the Cratchitt Family Variety Hour.

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Well, finally I am able to get that off my chest (wait…remember what W.C. Fields said about working with children and animals? I think he was referring to Tiny Tim, the little scamp!) and now I can focus on the other elements that make the musical version of A Christmas Carol such a winning holiday treat. The show sports a laudable pedigree, coming from the creative triumvirate of Menken, Ahrens and Ockrent, and the somewhat shopworn story of Scrooge, Marley and a trio of ghostly tour guides is given a fresh gloss-over in this adaptation.

"A Place Called Home," clearly is the best-known song from the show's score (and easily its most memorably and melodic), and it's given several reprises to make its lovely, even inspiring, point to give context to the story of how Scrooge became a harshly cruel businessman. The show-opening "Jolly Good Time" sets the proper tone for the show as it introduces the cast of characters amid the holiday revelry of London's denizens, both rich and poor. Marley's spirit is introduced through "Link by Link," a production number that surrounds Scrooge with a chorus of frightening spectres, and Act Two's introduction of The Ghost of Christmas Past is followed adroitly by a chorus of showgirls singing "Abundance of Charity." While much of the music is forgettable in a way that a lot of contemporary showtunes tend to be, the score nonetheless works well in relating Dickens' tale, conveying a sense of character and setting in so doing.

Unique to A Christmas Carol the Musical is the scene in which we learn that Scrooge's father was sent away to debtors' prison when he was unable to pay his debts, urging his son to "save his pennies" as he leaves-which is a retelling of events from the life of Charles Dickens himself. In another change from the novella and subsequent productions that evolved from it, the object of Scrooge's youthful affections herein is known as Emily, but is perhaps best known as Belle in other adaptations.




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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


 
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