BWW Review - ZACH's A CHRISTMAS CAROL Cures The Scrooge in All of Us
Over 100 new people move to Austin every day. And before you wonder why I've started a theatre review with that statistic, it means 36,500 new Austinites have not seen ZACH's A CHRISTMAS CAROL. This perennial favorite, running at ZACH every Christmas season for the last three million years (Okay, really, what is it now, four years?) adds much merriment to the Austin holiday season, and Austin theatre in general. It showcases the best of our community, and is top notch entertainment for those looking to bask in the joy of the holiday season. It's a perfect show to share with the family in town for the holiday - and a great representation of Austin's talent for the newcomer.
Charles Dickens' story helps bring ZACH's jukebox musical to life every Christmas season. Combining contemporary hit music with Dickens' story of the transformation of Ebenezer Scrooge is unlikely and it's pathos can seem to get drowned out in the sparkle of this production. Luckily, though, most of us know the story, and it works for this show thanks to a budget that allows for gorgeous production values and a cast made up of the finest of Austin's theatre talent. It's good. It's REALLY good. Many a review has provided this information, singing the praises of this glorious production. But for those 36,500 new Austinites mentioned above, and those of you curious about this year's show, I'll go ahead and proceed with this review.
Despite being a jukebox musical, ZACH's A CHRISTMAS CAROL is true to the plot line we're all familiar with. Scrooge (the perfect, curmudgeonly Jaston Williams takes on the role this year) is visited by the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Reprising their roles this year are the practically incomparable Kenny Williams, Chanel, and Roderick Sanford. Sanford is also cast as Jacob Marley, and he starts us off with an appropriately larger than life version of the ghost. The night I attended, Sanford raised the somewhat lagging pace upon his ghoulish and howling entrance. The cast seemed to need a bit of a rolling start, and cues were sluggish in the first few scenes, but this improved as the actors warmed up.
Kenny Williams gets us rolling as the Ghost of Christmas Past (and he does it hysterically, Boo!) channeling a little RuPaul to our delight. It doesn't hurt that he's a wonderfully accomplished singer as well. The Ghost ushers Scrooge through his painful childhood, memories of his sister Fan, and the infamous party hosted by Fezziwig (another role inhabited by Roderick Sanford) punctuated by Kool and The Gang's "Celebration" (natch). In another scene, Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" seems an unlikely ballad, but in this version, Sidney Scott shows us a beautiful Belle who must leave the younger Scrooge, much as it pains the elder.
Grammy nominated singer Chanel compels Scrooge to "Fly Like An Eagle" as they embark on the second field trip of the night, visiting Ebeneezer's nephew Fred (a charming and poised Matthew Redden). Tyler Jones as Topper gives us a hysterically awkward but roof raising and impressive version of Pitbull's "Don't Stop The Party."
Somewhere during all the hijinks on the night I attended, the party really did stop. The turntable providing the rotation for all of Bob Lavalle's beautiful set broke down. Next to the electricity going out, I can't imagine a worse nightmare for a stage manager (Catherine Ann Tucker in this instance. Go Catherine!) A prompt and stern announcement in the middle of everything warned us all of technical difficulties and that the actors should clear the stage. It was great to see this cast do just that, zipping off the stage as if it happened every night. (I hope not!) Twenty minutes later, the show resumed, and the audience was just about as nonplussed as the actors. Moving right along, Riley Wesson as a younger Scrooge asks Belle to marry him with, you guessed it, "I Think I Wanna Marry You."
The Ghost of Christmas Present, and her magical milk of human kindness get to Scrooge as they visit the Crachits - a beautifully diverse family in this version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, and after Francene Bayola (Martha Cratchit) brilliantly sings a remarkable version of Beyonce's "Halo," you'll be beyond convinced that ZACH produces superior, extraordinary youth talent.
Sanford returns to scare the beejebus out of Scrooge as the Ghost of Christmas Future and we all know how it turns out. (Spoiler Alert!) Scrooge becomes a changed man - and Andy Grammer's "Good To Be Alive" is the perfect feel good song to accompany the moment. But I can't skip over Paul Sanchez's spectacular "O Holy Night," even if it is thrown in at a less than perfect moment in the show.
But it doesn't matter. The show is so full of feel good moments, sparkling joy, great lighting (Sarah EC Maines) and a beautiful (if sometimes immobile) set that whatever flaws I've mentioned here are minimal. This production is beautifully executed. And I can't throw any more adjectives at it.
Ok, maybe a couple. Finally, let's not forget Jaston Williams, icon of Austin theatre. His hilarious version of Scrooge is unlike all others. He's quirky and cranky and funny, all at the same time.
Just go see it. The sooner the better. It's a great way to ring in the holidays. It'll get you in the holiday spirit right away. ZACH's A CHRISTMAS CAROL is a cure for the Scrooge in us all.
Directed by Abe Reybold
Musical Direction by Allen Robertson
Choreography by Jim Cooney
Through December 30, 2018
1510 Toomey Road
Austin, TX, 78704
2 hours 30 minutes running time