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BWW Reviews: A CHRISTMAS CAROL - A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS is Alluring, Spooky, Heartwarming Holiday Fare

The Alley Theatre in Houston has been annually producing a stage adaptation of Charles Dickens' novella A Christmas Carol in Prose, Being a Ghost Story of Christmas since 1988. In 1990, Michael Wilson's adaptation, titled A CHRISTMAS CAROL – A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS, had its premiere at The Alley. With family friendly chills and a thrilling, Wizard of Oz-esque spin on the classic parable of redemption and the true meaning of Christmas, the show continues to delight audiences year after year.

Under the direction of James Black, the cast brings the spellbinding and magical play to life. James Black perfectly captures the creepy ambience that one would expect from a ghost story, especially with the opening sequence with the six apparitions from various historical periods dancing around and frightening Ebenezer Scrooge. As the show progresses, James Black ensures that every joke earns a great laugh-I would even go as far as saying that James Black adds more emphasis to the humor present in the script than Michael Wilson did when I last saw the play in 2006. Lastly, James Black's direction also sends the audience out with warm hearts and big smiles.

Hope Clarke's choreography of the six apparitions is unnerving. As they cavort around the stage to John Gromada's original and haunting score and claps of thunder, they successfully spook the audience time and time again.

Jeffrey Bean's take on Ebenezer Scrooge is subtly complex and wonderfully articulated. There is no denying that Jeffrey Bean can chew scenery like its no one's business, so it was really refreshing to see him drop the caricature for strong, fully-realized character. However, after the climatic moments of the show Jeffrey Bean did get to offer some scenery chewing in a tangibly realistic way-what over joyous and redeemed Scrooge wouldn't have a taste of over-the-top flair? Likewise, he makes his character's dynamic change and arc palpable for the audience, entertaining and teaching them every step of the way.

John Fletch's double duty as Mrs. Dilber and Jacob Marley is pristine. As Mrs. Dilber, he is pure comedic genius. John Fletch earns hearty guffaw after hearty guffaw. Yet, his Jacob Marley is terrifying. The audience, myself included, is completely startled by John Fletch's chilling entrance from the under the floor-jumping with a fun and finely tuned fright.

Elizabeth Bunch as Mary Pidgeon, a doll vender, and as Spirit of Christmas Past is charming and sweet. Her Mary Pidgeon is a joy to watch, showcasing elements of kindness and respect that her turn as Spirit of Christmas Past really gets to delve into. The Spirit of Christmas Past shows Ebenezer Scrooge all the joys and hardships that made him who he was, in addition to the heart(s) he broke along the way. She is sugary sweet, almost saccharine, in her jovial, loving nature.

Bert, a fruit and cider vendor, and Spirit of Christmas Present, played by David Rainey is fantastically humorous, buoyant, and jolly. He shows Ebenezer all the great things that are happening in the present. He highlights how if Scrooge was more friendly and pleasurable to be around that he could celebrate enjoy from the holidays like everyone else, even the poor. With an infectious laugh and glowing personality, this Spirit is one that that everyone can love. Yet, the gravity of his message is made clear in his final moments, when he drops his merry façade and introduces Ebenezer Scrooge to Ignorance and Want.

With delightful and inspired industrial revolution verve, Declan Mooney's Mr. Marvel and Spirit of Christmas Future is alluring and creepy. Mr. Marvel's inventions and way of thinking, portrayed by Declan Mooney, are fascinating and intriguing; however, this same ingenuity is foreboding and discomforting when he plays the silent Spirit of Christmas Future. I really enjoyed his take on Mr. Marvel, but his short stature did not come close to having the same effect as Justin Doran's imposing height, in addition to the height of the bike, did for the unsettling, frightening appearance of the Spirit of Christmas Future in 2006.

Jay Sullivan is wonderfully spirited as Fred. He embodies holiday cheer and makes every moment he is on stage bright and light. As Scrooge at 21, Jay Sullivan shows a more somber and gloomy characterization, allowing the audience a glimpse into why Ebenezer became the man we have come to know at the beginning of the show.

As Bob Cratchit, Philip Lehl is spectacular-making the audience only wish that this adaptation allowed us to spend more time with him. Despite his abbreviated time on stage, the audience does see the man as a diligent, dutiful hard worker and loving father.

Dylan Godwin's Mr. Topper is spectacularly funny. I don't recall enjoying or laughing as much during Fred's party scene in 2006 as I did last night with his take on the role. Dylan Godwin deftly understands his body and uses it, and his voice, to produce comedic gold in the scene.

As the dancing apparitions, Julia Krohn, Adam Gibbs, Ellen Dyer, Rebekah Stevens, Dylan Godwin, and Mark Jackson are eerie and fascinating. It is both a joy and unsettling to watch them move around the stage, especially as their costumes and movements highlight the various ways they died.

The entire cast, including all members that have yet to be named, are fantastic performers and artists. They bring their skill, charisma, and talent, giving their all in the performance and selling the story to the audience. Yes, Jeffery Bean's Ebenezer Scrooge is the reason the audience packs the house, but without the skilled ensemble pulling their weight and doing their best behind him, the show would fall flat around him. Every member of the cast, from child to adult, should take pride in the excellence they present on the stage. Bravo!

Technical elements have not noticeably changed since the last time I viewed the show in 2006. Tony Straiges' Scenic Design is wonderfully sparse and Victorian. The bare wood and brick design adds to the atmospheric elements and allows the set to be very versatile. Rui Rita's Lighting Design highlights the atmospheric nature of the set and is wonderfully dark and bright whenever appropriate. Alejo Vietti's Costume Design is superb. Every character is perfectly clothed in pristinely appropriate period pieces. I especially am fond of the Spirit of Christmas Present's horns that appear to slowly sag and lower as his time wears out. Likewise, the idea that the clock above the stage advances from 2:00am to 3:00am during the Spirit of Christmas Present's time on stage is wonderfully and keenly inspired. All other spirits "freeze" time as their scenes occur outside of "real-time," yet the Spirit of Christmas Present must be constantly cautious of his time-which is a nice touch.

Every year The Alley puts on a spectacular production with their A CHRISTMAS CAROL – A GHOST STORY OF CHRISTMAS. There is no questioning why it is a perennial and annual holiday favorite in Houston. While some audience members are seeing it again, the most magical aspect is seeing the faces light up on those who have never seen the show before. After last night's performance, it was wonderful hearing people discuss the amazing production after being wowed for the first time.

A CHRISTIMAS CAROL – A GHOST SOTRY OF CHRISTMAS is recommended and great for audiences 6 and up. The show is alluring, spooky, heartwarming holiday fare. This year's production runs through Monday, December 24, 2012. For more information and tickets, please visit or call (713) 220 – 5700. Groups of 10 or more may be eligible to receive concierge services and select discounts. Call (713) 220 – 5700 and ask for the group sales department.

Photos by Mike McCormick and T. Charles Erickson, courtesy of The Alley Theatre.

The Company as The Dancing Apparitions. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

(L-R) Jeffrey Bean as Ebenezer Scrooge and John Feltch as Mrs. Dilber. Photo by Mike McCormick.

(L-R) Jay Sullivan as Fred and Jeffrey Bean as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo by Mike McCormick.

Declan Mooney as Mr. Marvel. Photo by Mike McCormick.

Declan Mooney as Mr. Marvel. Photo by Mike McCormick.

Jeffrey Bean as Ebenezer Scrooge. Photo by Mike McCormick.

John Feltch as Jacob Marley. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

Elizabeth Bunch as Spirit of Christmas Past. Photo by Mike McCormick.

Elizabeth Bunch as Spirit of Christmas Past. Photo by Mike McCormick.

Emily Neves as Belle. Photo by Mike McCormick.

David Rainey as Spirit of Christmas Present. Photo by Mike McCormick.

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