BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Brightens Season at TAFE
It's that time of year - if it's December, there must be Dickens. York's contribution to the season is TAFE's (Theatre Arts For Everyone) A CHRISTMAS CAROL, this adaptation by TAFE director Diane Crews, with music by musical director Jacqueline Sutton. TAFE (say "taffy") is a community group of amateurs, and it's crucial to remember that the root of "amateur" is the Latin "amo," or love. That Crews and her cast and crew are doing this show for love is one of its most evident points. Audiences can feel the love; they've said as much.
It's a simpler adaptation than many, made to work with a large group of children as well as with adults, and while it's a musical, there's a mixture of its own music with carols everyone knows. Most of the original songs in the first act are generally "caroly" in nature, and there's no baritone power ballad or giant eleven o'clock number. But the songs have the virtue of sincerity rather than having a "look at my rhyme scheme" or "this was written for Kristen Chenowith" sound to them, and that's, after all, what Christmas needs.
The show is immense, with a cast of 45, far larger than even most of the professional musicals in the area, but with an ensemble made up of groups of carolers, marching spirits to impress the late Jacob Marley's words on Scrooge, and street vendors and shoppers galore wandering throughout London, there's plenty for that cast to do. Fortunately, the cast is by and large energetic and enthusiastic, so there's no difficulty for them to keep up with the number of scenes many of them are in.
Jerry Young's Ebenezer Scrooge is full of bad cheer and humbuggery, until forced to understand otherwise - just what you'd hope from the world's meanest man other than the Grinch. Although he seems a bit stiff at first, as if one facial acknowledgment of the unsatisfactorily employed Bob Cratchit might break him, he does warm up as his emotions do, after the repeated visions of past, present, and future from some very intent spirits. Jillian Ducker is a delightful Christmas Past, full of Christmas light and warmth. Scrooge's late partner Marley is ably played by Azaria Garcia, whose talent belies his age (he's not yet out of high school) and who needs to be on stage whenever he can. Steve Brown is the merriest Christmas Present imaginable, a Santa-esque figure of green robes, warmth, and an imagined scent of pine forest and gingerbread. Tony Fogle is an imposing Christmas Future, a tall, dark, silent wraith who really does seem to glide across the stage.
Also a commendable main performer is Chris Brown, playing Scrooge's nephew Fred, who really exudes the joys of Christmas that his character professes. Steven Ruffatto's Bob Cratchit is equally fine, giving Cratchit that calm, even temper that one can't quite imagine anyone having after long exposure to Scrooge. And of coure, Marlowe Given provides the sweet nature that makes Tiny Tim one of Dickens' most beloved characters. In second grade, Marlowe is already a stage veteran, and one hopes she will continue to inspire other children to take to the area's stages.
A special acknowledgment must go to the collection of performers who make up the street vendors of London, who are both ensemble members and the background color of the show. There are several of them, filling the streets and thereby the stage, all of whom truly helped to set the scene for the show.
Kudos to costume coordinator Annie Susemihl for a fine job of making the show feel truly Victorian.
The auditorium at York Learning Center is a perfect facility for a performance like this, and was well-chosen as the venue for TAFE. Although this was a one-weekend-only show, its strengths should alert local theatre lovers to keep an eye out for TAFE's upcoming production of CINDERELLA. Visit tafepa.org for more information.