BWW Review: Group Rep Rocks with A CAROL CHRISTMAS
So many versions of A Christmas Carol surface in November and December in local theatres, but most are really not worthy of your attention. This year exceptions are the Geffen's spectacular one-man version ... and... Group Rep is really turning up the heat with an original contemporary musical entitled A Carol Christmas. With a cast of 20 on their wide stage, Group Rep offers its audiences a terrifically enjoyable time this holiday season through December 30.
Hartley Powers plays Carol, a shrewd businesswoman a la "Devil Wears Prada". She thinks the holidays are unproductive, creating apathy among her staff, so insists on a tight schedule precluding any time off. Her former partner Joelle (Janet Wood) has recently passed away and leaves her a surprise dvd in which she explains what will come about for Carol on Christmas Eve. Instead of three ghosts visiting her, there are an offbeat therapist Odette (Debi Tinsley) instead of Christmas past, a Russian herbalist Karina (also Wood) who creates a magical tea, Christmas present, and Mabel a crazy Tarot card reader (also played by Tinsley) in place of Christmas future. Doug Haverty as bookwriter has wisely contemporized the entire situation making Carol more believable as a female executive in the corporate world.
I will not divulge too many of the surprises, but here is a little preview of two of my favorites. Peyton Kirkner plays Trina, the Tiny Tim character from the original, who has a weak heart. This little girl is so intelligent she takes a myriad of words and spells them backwards putting one of Bruce Kimmel's special songs centerstage. Carol is exposed via the Tarot readings to love with her old doctor friend Blake (John Schroeder) and then to dying with Lloyd Pedersen as Mr. Death, a delicious takeoff from Damn Yankees, replete with tap choreographed splendidly by Kay Cole. Watch out for this one, with fabulously devilish costumes by Morgan Gannes. Beautiful musical arrangements are by Richard Allen.
Directed with wonderfully fast pacing by Kimmel, the entire ensemble give electric performances. Powers as Carol steals the 90 minutes. She offers just the right mix of control with an iron fist and sensitivity. Carol's adjusted plan for the immediate future brings everyone over to her side, and Powers' mood switch and chemistry with the entire cast are joyous to watch. Wood is a standout as both Joelle and Karina, using an effective accent and a grande comedic style. Tinsley as well is delightful as both Odette and Mabel, utilizing bizarre mannersims that get thunderous laughter. Schroeder does some really excellent singing as Blake. Monica Allan as the High Priestess proves once again that there is no such thing as a small part. Praise to everyone, including the 5 child carolers who truly do sound terrific together.
This leads us to shower kudos on Austin Quan for incredible sound - you could swear there is a live orchestra there, Sabrina Beattle for fine lighting design and to Tesshi Nakagawa for his adaptable set design that allows the flats to fold in and out, depending on the scenario.
Doug Haverty and Bruce Kimmel have created a truly splendiforous hit with A Carol Christmas at Group Rep playing through December 30. I cannot give enough praise to them and their dazzling cast.. Go, go, go and enjoy a real holiday treat! And... buy the CD, that will be available for purchase in the lobby after Thanksgiving. You'll revel at the music and will want to listen to the score more than once.
(photo credit: Karen Staitman)