BWW Review: Chesapeake Shakespeare Sings Perfect Harmony In A CHRISTMAS CAROL
Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's A CHRISTMAS CAROL, a beloved local holiday favorite, like "Crabs For Christmas," a visit to our own miraculous 34th Street, "Walkin' In An Essex Wonderland" and flamingos wearing Santa hats, returns with singing and dancing and that special Christmas In Baltimore flourish that has us clapping our Maryland-flag mittened hands in delight. It is a treasure of highest caliber, a personalization of the classic tale of holiday hauntings.
The converted historic bank building on Calvert Street, unassuming at street level, sports a tall marquis with the name Shakespeare spelled vertically- quite effective if one is driving up the street. Inside, the atmosphere is at once cozy and stately, like an imposing great aunt who insists you sit up straight but serves the very best cocoa and cookies to you on her late mother's Limoges china. The theater is full of verticality, interesting angles, and beautiful red bench seating. Take a moment to admire the ceiling.
This version of A CHRISTMAS CAROL, written by Ian Gallanar retains much- much!- of Charles Dickens' effervescent dialogue and narrative. There are additions and alterations to provide a Baltimore-centric feel to the play, which work quite well, plus a few modern jokes inserted that are unfortunately obvious and grating. Overall, though, it's a successful adaptation full of little surprises.
Director Gerrad Alex Taylor makes excellent use of the three-tier set sprung from the mind of Technical Director Daniel O'Brien. In some areas of floor-level seating, performers on the uppermost level are sometimes hard to hear and difficult to see, briefly, but then action moves to a different area of the stage. There is quite a bit of singing in the show, traditional holiday favorites mixed with a few more obscure arrangements. The performers' numbers are plumped up by live musicians onstage, Ellie Cattle on violin, Michael Toperzer and and Bart Debicki on guitar, and Elliott Kashner, between scenes, plays keyboard. Music Director Grace Srinvasan delivers some really wonderful harmonies in the group numbers, and Choreographer Nellie Glover manages lively, active dances in which, somehow, none of the actors sound the least bit out of breath singing and dancing at the same time.
Gregory Burgess returns again to his role as Ebenezer Scrooge, believable and authentic in both his original incarnation and post-transformation characters. As his younger self, Terrance Fleming is smooth and earnest. Se'Lah Jackson's portrayal of Belle, Ebenezer's fiancee, provides a bit of welcome explanatory backstory. As Fred, Elliott Kashner is warm, compassionate, and that voice of stubborn optimism many of us wish we heard more of in dark times. In the role of Bob Cratchit, Steve Torres brings an exhausted hopefulness to an understated role. As his wife, Molly Moores provides just the right combination of sharpness and sweetness to make Mrs. Cratchit relatable. Other notables are Steven Hoochuk as Marley's ghost, Gregory Michael Atkin as Mr. Fezziwig (among other roles) and Tamieka Chavis as Mrs. Fezziwig.
Costume Designer Kristina Lambdin seems to be having a great deal of fun decorating characters of differing classes, at different ages and with different plot purposes. The Ghost of Christmas Past glows ethereally, the Ghost of Christmas Present is resplendent, and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come is menacing. The rest of the characters are equally garbed in appropriate attire, some dismal and threadbare, some colorful and full of movement. Sandra Spence, in charge of hair, wigs and makeup, deserves praise for her masterful, creative work, and the wide variety of looks facilitated by her skills. Run crew are smooth and speedy, and usually disguised by a song from an upper level of the set. Really, the theatrical sleight-of-stage moments are extremely effective in keeping the pacing brisk.
Technical Director Daniel O'Brien manages some lighting and technical effects that are just right for the space, though sometimes threatening to be overwhelming, they stop just short of it. Ian Gallanar, wearing yet another hat, creates a soundscape that is suggestive and immersive without being distractive.
Intermission is about 15 minutes, long enough to refresh your drink at the re-opened floor level bar (the mezzanine bar remains open during the show) and visit the facilities. A couple of ladies, merry with wine, join me doing interpretive dance to make the faucets flow into the basins for handwashing. Men's room is on the mezzanine, ladies' on the ground floor, with a family restroom on each level.
The cast, splendidly attired, engaging in pre-show and intermission song, provides extra entertainment value, and the characters mingle post-show for attaboys and photographs. If you like Christmas carols, and have even passing regard for any version of Dickens' story A Christmas Carol, you will discover a wonderful holiday treat with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's Baltimore take of A CHRISTMAS CAROL.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL plays at Chesapeake Shakespeare, Chesapeake Shakespeare Company Theater, 7 South Calvert Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 through December 23rd. BOX OFFICE: 410-244-8570 Box Office weekday hours: Tuesday-Friday, 11am to 3pm. Phone the box office or buy tickets online.
Photo: L to R, Steven Hoochuk as Jacob Marley, Gregory Burgess as Ebenezer Scrooge; Photo Credit Shaelyn Jae.