BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Keeps on Singing at The Alliance Theatre
This year's performance of A Christmas Carol at the Alliance Theatre is being performed on their new Coca-Cola stage for the very first time. With multiple trap doors, specially rigged smoke slots, a fantastic fly system, huge performance space, and comfortable seating the Coca-Cola stage helps to elevate how this beloved story is brought to life.
The show's strong ensemble work garnered an infectious Christmas spirit that bled out into the audience. Every actor's full commitment to the traditional story created a warm invitation into the world of Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim. In fact, the performance literally invited the audience to participate with a sing-along to "I Hear the Bells on Christmas Day," that started off the second act. It was a special and unexpected treat. The sing-a-long worked perfectly as a way to bring back the audiences' attention after intermission and to wake up the youngest ones from their unexpected nap in their seats.
Many actors have played the twisted, old Ebenezer Scrooge and all have brought something new to the character. David de Vries brought a sense of authenticity and play to his performance. Scrooge had fun on stage and, in turn, so did the audience. Whether it was while penny-pinching desperate townsfolk, facing his own difficult past and poor decisions, or turning over a new leaf and literally jumping for joy, De Vries' Scrooge is sympathetic and easily takes the audience along with him during Scrooge's redemption.
Across the stage from Scrooge is the generous and optimistic Bob Cratchit played by Thomas Neal Antwon Ghant. Antwon Ghant brought some more modern sensibilities to his interpretation of the character that made his intentions clear and easily understood. At times, Antwon Ghant's reactions felt as if he were the star in a documentary and had looked into the camera to say to us, "Can you believe this?" And we couldn't! The dynamic between De Vries as Scrooge and Antwon Ghant as Cratchit was wonderful to watch. The pair foiled off of each other beautifully and together crafted an enjoyable and well-rounded experience.
While Santa Clause isn't a part of this story, the ghost of Christmas Present satisfies the need for jollity, fanfare, and a booming laugh for it to feel like a proper Christmas tale. Bart Hansard's larger-than-life presence and performance made him one of the most effective Christmas spirits and one of the most memorable characters from Scrooge's past. While both of his roles were raucous, joyful, and over the top Hansard did an excellent job of creating discrete characteristics for each of the two characters. Hansard's overall performance added a wonderful warmth to the show and touched every corner of the stage while he was on it.
The heartfelt story was made even better by highly effective technical elements. Every costume was just as full of life and unique as the characters, the food props had my mouth-watering, and the multiple trap doors made entrances and exits exhilarating. But what really caught my attention was the finesse of the spotlight operator. It's not something an audience member usually notices, and good lighting is like that. After years of watching spotlight operators be just a little bit behind the action on stage, I was pleasantly surprised by how I hadn't even noticed there was a spotlight until it was almost intermission. Skilled technicians are just as important as skilled actors and the spotlight operators' laser-sharp focus during this show deepened the effectiveness of each performance they touched.
On the other hand, there was one technical element that made me scratch my head. Poor Jacob Marley's ghost is covered with the heavy chains of greed and selfishness that he forged during his life on earth. As impressive as they looked draped across the actor when they clinked together on stage the sound was obviously hollow plastic. For every other design element on stage to have such a rich feeling of authenticity, the sound of cheap plastic hitting itself while Jacob Marley warned Scrooge took me out of the intensity of the moment and sent my mind wandering back to Halloween.
While the cast worked tremendously as an ensemble, there were a few performances that weren't quite as strong individually. Christian Magby as the cheerful and loyal friend of young Scrooge, Dick Wilkins, had an exuberant flamboyance that was the perfect foil for the young and often morose Scrooge. However, it seemed that he carried that same sense of flamboyance into every other character on stage who wasn't Dick Wilkins. It was fun to watch each time, but his choices and ensemble characterizations became predictable.
The ghost of Jacob Marley, played by Eric Mendenhall, cast a frightful image onstage but his presence on stage felt more caricature than character as compared with the other ghosts. His performance as Jacob Marley in Scrooge's flashback was intimidating and cold - a wonderful sneak peek into Scrooge's future. However, as Jacob Marley's ghost, Mendenhall seemed to struggle with finding a balance between Marley's cut-throat business acumen and death inspired remorse so his performance fell into an odd middle ground where he was simply a spooky ghost.
Laurie Williamson as Bess and a notable amount of memorable ensemble characters was the one actor I had the most difficult time understanding. Even with the odd habit of facing the audience directly more often than facing other characters on stage as she spoke, I had a tough time understanding her exact words. They reached my balcony seat a bit garbled and mixed together.
The biggest issue that I had with this particular performance was just how long it was. The children who were ecstatic to be there at the top of the show were fast asleep by intermission and constantly nudged back awake during the second act.
What makes the show so long is all of the carols sung throughout and the time spent during scenes really driving a point single home. Every scene had at least 2 - 3 instances of singing that made for a wonderful backdrop but became redundant when constantly pulled to the forefront of the performance. It was as if every chance they could sing they did - and then some. While the story is the perfect family show, the excess carols pushed back curtain time and could conceivably make it more difficult to bring young children out for such a late night. Additionally, the characters' dialogue became relatively cyclical during some of the more dialogue-heavy scenes, such as the Christmas Past party scenes and Christmas Present dinner party. This merry-go-round of conversation made it easy to lose focus and drift off into your own thoughts or get distracted by the details on set.
Overall, the Alliance Theater's production of A Christmas Carol this year on their new Coca-Cola stage is a family treat and just the right way to help any grouch get into the Christmas spirit. I left with carols in my head, warmth in my heart, and a tear in my eye.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL is playing at The Alliance Theatre now through December 24th on their new Coca-Cola stage. This production is recommended for all audience and group discounts and accessibility features are available. Get tickets here!