BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Omaha Community Playhouse is Unchanging Magic!

BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at Omaha Community Playhouse is Unchanging Magic!

A CHRISTMAS CAROL returns to the Omaha Community Playhouse for its 43rd year. This holiday favorite is based on Charles Dicken's classic novel and adapted for stage by Charles Jones with musical orchestration by John J. Bennett. History has it that Charles Jones penned the adaptation in front of his fireplace at home in Omaha as a solution to the budgetary problems the Playhouse was experiencing at the time. The show was such a success, that it has continued for more than four decades and has expanded into touring companies as well.

Although the show continues to make changes in the cast over the years, the show remains a constant, filling the house throughout its run, November 16 through December 23. What makes this longstanding show such a winner? There are many reasons.

All of the pieces work together. The sets, the lighting, the props, the sound, the music, the costumes...They all complement each other perfectly to create a replica of Victorian England. As soon as the curtain rises, we are transported to another time and place.

The set designed by Jim Othuse is magnificent! It is the equivalent of a magical theme park with jaw-dropping detail. Set pieces roll in or descend from the ceiling smoothly. There are sliding walls, rising platforms, and illusions created with fog. Othuse's lighting design adds to the illusions with glowing windows and fireplace, and stars that shift in color as they fill the sky.

Sound designers Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco contribute to the magic with their impactful sound effects. Scenes with Marley echo just enough to give it an otherworldly feel. Carols being sung outside wax and wane as Scrooge opens and closes his window. Clocks tick ominously.

The sound is gloriously resonant under the skillful musical direction of Jim Boggess. His six piece orchestra fills the house with Christmas carols, both familiar and from bygone days such as the hauntingly beautiful Susanni, thought to be a German lullaby. The music never fails to inspire the goodwill of Christmas. Michelle Garrity's choreography accompanies the music well with joyous dancing parties and a sprightly leaping beggar (Cody Girouex.)

Visually lush, Georgiann Regan's and Lindsay Pape's costumes have been retained over the years. They are ornately constructed with rich textures, colors and extraneous frou-frous of that time period. The costumes smack of authenticity. The winner is the red and gold gown and robe worn by the Ghost of Christmas Past.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL production is so massive it requires two directors. Kimberly Faith Hickman and Ablan Roblin co-direct this large cast of all ages. There are four dozen actors ranging from veterans of the stage to newbies.

Jerry Longe, inhabiting Ebenezer Scrooge for his 13th year, carries the show like the iconic red muffler wrapped around his neck. Longe transforms his crotchety, stingy self into a generous, happy man over the course of the show, aided by three "ghosts" who show him the past, the present, and what might be if there are no changes in his behavior. The biggest laughs are earned by Longe's reactions to events. His facial expressions and innate comedic timing are impeccable. My favorite scene is Scrooge interacting with the group of children that enter his shop. "Go home and terrify your parents!"

The ghost of Jacob Marley (Don Keelan-White) is a highlight of the show. Fantastic special effects and his little minions that resemble The Walking Dead guarantee that this is one scene that will stick in your memory. The Marley scene is unlike any other.

A dialect can make understanding the dialogue more difficult. This is not a problem for Longe and Josh Peyton as Scrooge's nephew, Fred. Their diction is precise and clear. Their performances are accomplished, letting us see Scrooge and Fred as people we could get to know and like.

Sometimes it's bewildering to see new actors in roles that were formerly played by others. Having seen this show several times over the years, it is interesting to see how the characters themselves change while the show remains unchanged. Each actor brings something fresh to the show. But the story remains the same. It's a classic that warms the heart and feeds the soul. Besides being a simply magical experience, it has a timeless message for each of us.

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. Start by making A CHRISTMAS CAROL part of your holiday tradition.

Photo Credit: Bob Gilmore (Ghost of Christmas Present), Jerry Longe (Scrooge) Robertson Photography

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From This Author Christine Swerczek

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