BWW Reviews: A.C.T. Continues to Bring Christmas Spirit to San Francisco with A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Can you hear the sound of children laughing? Smell the vegetables cooking? Feel the cool air surround you? Hear the carolers singing? There's one carol you won't want to miss. American Conservatory Theatre's annual production of the classic Charles Dickens tale, "A Christmas Carol," has earned its place in the line of many adaptations of the classic worth watching over and over again every year. There are few stories people never tire of, and a Christmas story like "A Christmas Carol" is one of them.
With beautiful, dream-like sets and a strong cast that highlights veteran actors, masters program students and child actors, A.C.T. stays true to the dialogue of the original short story while adding in its own creative variations, including a musical score. The story follows the stingy Ebenezer Scrooge as he is visited by four ghosts and encouraged to reform and embrace the Christmas spirit.
John Arnone's sets draw from the Victorian setting of the story and consist mostly of windows covered in snow and cutouts of buildings in the background, but the cutouts are colorful and dream-like, as if they are taken straight out of a children's book.
The script, sets and costumes still utilize the darker elements of the story. The ghost of Marley could use a few more elements to make him scary. A solitary ghost flying across the stage heralds the entrance of Marley, who comes up through Scrooge's bed. The entrance is dramatic enough, but the ghost stands solitary and alone on the bed. His chains aren't particularly unnerving, and while Jack Willis gives a convincing performance with a deep, chilling voice, his makeup and hair making for the perfect ghost, more ghosts in chains or longer chains hooked to the top or sides of the stage would make for a bit more horrifying and believable encounter.
The ghost of Christmas future, on the other hand, consists of a rather brilliantly designed puppet that takes up the entire stage and hovers menacingly over characters. A group of businessmen discussing the death of an unloved rich man look equally menacing in their all-black costumes and hats. The high-quality costuming lasts throughout the show, too. Scrooge wears a romantic, long black coat in contrast with other livelier characters who wear more colorful period costumes, all perfect.
The costumes have equally lively characters to fill them. Ben Kahre flies down on a swing with a whimsical, yellow costume as the ghost of Christmas past, who represents light, and Omoze Idehenre wears a lush, green dress with branch-like patterns on it to match her magical, golden staff that she uses as the ghost of Christmas present. Children dressed as holiday vegetables dance about the stage, and energetic actors fill supporting roles. The true highlight, of course, is the man, himself. James Carpenter brings a realistic, relatable side to the old miser, Scrooge, a refreshing change from some versions that portray Scrooge as completely evil before his transformation.
Throughout the show, all of the characters sing and dance, often giving Carpenter a chance to add humorous moments for his character. The show works more as a play than a musical; Its actors aren't all professional singers, which makes for a pleasant enough sound, but nothing spectacular. The music, itself, is seasonal and magical, often too short. The finale comes too quickly with the curtain dropping just as fake snow begins to fall. But the music would certainly be worthy of a cheap soundtrack if A.C.T. wanted to make more money off the show. The tunes are memorable and will leave many wishing they could take the music home with them, or the entire show, for that matter. All the more reason to come again next year.
A.C.T.'s production of "A Christmas Carol" will last as long as there are families, children and children at heart yearning for hope and a reason to believe in and celebrate the Christmas spirit.
A Christmas Carol
American Conservatory Theatre
Through December 24
Photo: A reformed Scrooge (James Carpenter, center) celebrates the season with his nephew, Fred (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Jason Frank, far left), Fred's wife, Mary (A.C.T. Master of Fine Arts Program student Maggie Leigh, second from left), and the Cratchits: Bob (A.C.T. core Acting Company member Manoel Felciano), Anne (Delia MacDougall), and Tiny Tim (Graham Bennett).
Photo by Kevin Berne