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Sparkles Like the Times Square Christmas Tree


Upon entering ZACH's Topher Auditorium last Thursday night, I couldn't help but notice the tent card on the back of every chair. "This seat sat empty for 626 days... but happy times are back at ZACH!" And, happy times indeed are, with the return of ZACH's perennial, dazzling, jukebox version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL. The remounting of ZACH's A CHRISTMAS CAROL every holiday season is, 2020 notwithstanding, as reliable as hearing Mariah Carey's All I Want for Christmas is You on repeat... in every department story in the country. ZACH's A CHRISTMAS CAROL is less annoying. Lots less. In fact, despite my weary mood coming in, one knows, if one has attended the show before, that one will not leave this show in a poor mood. Indeed, in the middle of of a harried holiday season, seeing this show should be a required respite.

If you're one of the few people who haven't heard about or seen this Christmas extravaganza and are expecting something classic, be warned, it is not that A Christmas Carol, though Marc Pouhé as Scrooge could single handedly convince you otherwise (more on this later). Even if you're a Grinch, your heart could grow three sizes from the sparkling talent this production provides. As a long time non-musical theatre actor and director, taking a masterpiece like A Christmas Carol in this direction left me skeptical when ZACH first premiered the show in 2014. I've since attended several times over the years and this romp of a production has won my heart for what it is: a showcase of a cast, having a great time, spreading holiday cheer. And no one helms this kind of show better than A CHRISTMAS CAROL's director Dave Steakley and musical director Allen Robertson.

We are treated again this year to Paul Sanchez as family man Bob Crachit. There's nothing like a standing ovation for your solo, especially on opening night, and this year, Paul earned his. Michael Valentine charmed a number of cheering patrons as Fred, and booming baritone Roderick Sanford is a powerhouse as Marley. The only thing disappointing in his performance is that we only get one time to be surprised by his entrance as Marley. Francene Bayola is a noted standout this year as Belle, who holds her own up against a cast already bursting at the seams with talent. Jordan Barron's Topper is a standout as well. Leslie McDonel gives us a solid Ghost of Christmas Present, and I think for this performance, I might have been delighted most by Kenny Williams' Ghost of Christmas Past. (Susan Branch Towne, get this ghost a pair of Kinky Boots next year!) It seemed in the middle of the energy onstage opening night, Williams was having the most fun of all.

Top earworms from country, rap, Christmas classics, R&B charts and more overflow in ZACH's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. If you're like me you might even concern yourself with a tune or two being stuck in your head for the remainder of the week - and rightly so. The music is popular and catchy, and production values are big and insist on attention. It's easy to get swept up in these aspects of the production, and perhaps forget the point of this Dickens classic. And this, more than any other ZACH Scrooge played before him, is where Marc Pouhé comes in.

Pouhé breathes so much rich, believable life into his Ebenezer Scrooge, that all the flash around him could be nothing more than white noise. And there's a lot of flash. It would be tempting to coast on a "featured celebrity performance," in this production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, but Pouhé gives our protagonist a dimension and depth usually reserved for only the finest of dramas. Cutting straight to the point of this Christmas classic, his performance reminds us of what is at the heart of the story: The powerful redemption of a wounded man. The whole of the cast is better for it, and we are enriched by it, too.

Before you go, be aware of ZACH's new policies concerning Covid-19. ZACH requires a printed copy of a negative COVID-19 test result obtained within 72 hours (3 days) of the show date for all patrons ages 12 and older, or proof of vaccination with final vaccine dated at least 14 days prior to the event. Negative test results or proof of vaccination must be dated with your full name matching your ID. Masks must be worn at all times in the building except while actively eating or drinking.

If wearing a mask through the show makes you feel like a Scrooge, don't worry! This cast is too committed to bringing us joy for that to happen. So treat yourself to ZACH's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. It's like flipping the switch on the Times Square Christmas tree - it illuminates the season.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL starring Marc Pouhé

By Charles Dickens

Conceived and Adapted by Dave Steakley

Directed by Dave Steakley

Musical Direction by Allen Robertson

Choreographed by Jen Young Mahlstedt

Additional Choreography by Christa Oliver

A Christmas Carol at ZACH Theatre

November 24 - January 2, 2022

The Topfer at ZACH | 202 S. Lamar Boulevard | Austin, TX 78704

Tickets: Start at $25 available at the ZACH box office - (512) 476-0541, x1; zachtheatre .org

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