BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL Shines Bright with Hope at Theatre Baton Rouge
It's incredibly rare for someone not to know the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge. A classic story of redemption, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, lingers in the hearts of everyone, especially those who have special ties to it, such as the team at Theatre Baton Rouge where A CHRISTMAS CAROL, has been a part of their holiday season for the past seven years. The story itself is timeless, as Romulus Linney's script is an extremely close adaptation of Charles Dickens' iconic ghost story. Add to that some classic Christmas carols (because what is A CHRISTMAS CAROL without caroling?), and you have a heart-warming evening of theatre just perfect for the holidays.
While the story is traditional enough, TBR keeps things fresh each year by adding or changing a thing here or there. Some years the focus may be on the more supernatural elements found in Dickens' writing, or it may focus more on the joy of watching Scrooge turn from a bitter miser into a man filled with grace and honesty. This year's production seems to linger on what it means to give hope to people.
Kurt Hauschild and Jack Lambert return as co-directors and have assembled a group of 40+ actors who shine with real richness in their performances. It's always a treat to see actors genuinely enjoying their parts while their characters take on greater depths and dimensions.
TBR regular Bill Corcoran stars as Scrooge, the miserly money-lender of London whose obsession with gold has turned his heart into coal. Corcoran's performance as Scrooge is one that's easier to sympathize. While he plays the part of the "covetous old sinner," he readily expresses his yearning for a happier life. It's a great foreshadowing of what has yet to happen while also demonstrating that even the hardest of hearts can be just as vulnerable. With Corcoran's performance, it is a treat to see his expressions range from humor to exasperation, to a sense of awe and even moments of fear.
Even the show's co-directors will be seen on stage. Hauschild plays the part of Scrooge's clerk Bob Cratchit, whose optimism and good nature is one way the production resonates the feeling of hope. Lambert himself plays the role of Fezziwig, whose performance leaves pure joy in his wake as he sings and dances during his Christmas party. It is at this party that Scrooge meets Belle, the love of his life (other than money, of course). Young Belle and Scrooge, nicely realized by Sydney Prochaska and Kenneth Mayfield, have their share of sweet, tender moments while sharing a dance, mirrored by the unseen older Scrooge. Their ultimate breakup is as heartbreaking for the audience as it is for Scrooge.
Tying the story all together is a series of ghosts, who make it their mission to have Scrooge change his ways. Mike Sager plays the Ghost of Jacob Marley, Scrooge's partner who is deceased at the start of the story. Creepy and unsettling, Marley warns Scrooge of his own chains that will doom him. Calvin Forrest is a vision in gold and cream as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Grounded by reality, he helps force Scrooge to look back on his past. Susannah Fowler Craig fills the stage as a matronly Ghost of Christmas Present, and shows Scrooge the joy that Christmas can bring. Johnny Santiago is ominous as the voiceless Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and his eerie movements are a perfect match to the looming future he shows Scrooge. And of course, there is Tiny Tim, the real symbol of hope in Dickens' classic story, played by Walker Skupien. Beyond adorable, Skupien's goodness is enough to melt even the strongest of icy hearts.
The production is tight, and the transitions from scene to scene are ever-flowing. This is great for bringing children to the theatre because they have less time to fidget. However, it also can be a disservice. Some of the poignancy at the end of scenes gets lost as the cast and crew move on to the next when there should be a moment to let what just happened to sink in. Still, the production is full of nuance and detail, and has its share of special effects. Sadly, there is no flying, but there are still treats for the eyes in the form of Marley's ghost and the penultimate moment where Scrooge sees where his fate is headed if he does not change. And the entrance of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is as jaw-dropping as it gets.
This production of A CHRISTMAS CAROL is an uplifting holiday treasure that reminds us all why it is important to have hope in our hearts. See it before the book closes this year.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL continues with performances through Dec. 17. For showtimes and ticket information visit theatrebatonrouge.org.