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BWW Reviews: Center Rep's CHRISTMAS CAROL One of a Kind

A number of factors combine to make Center REPertory Theatre's adaptation of Charles Dicken's classic "A Christmas Carol" a one-of-a-kind experience. Special effects throughout the show add to the excitement and surprise of the play as a fantastic cast gives familiar characters unique personalities.  

The story everyone knows follows the miserly, old Ebenezer Scrooge (the fitting Mark Anderson Phillips), the ultimate hoarder when it comes to gold. When his clerk, Bob Crachit (played with humble honesty by Michaael Wiles) and his nephew (a cheerful Joel Roster) wish him a Merry Christmas, the embittered Scrooge greets them with a forceful "Bah, Humbug." But when Scrooge's dead business partner Marley (Jeff Draper) visits him from the grave, carrying with him the chains he forged in life, a journey toward reclamation begins. The Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future each usher Scrooge to old and new memories, showing him the spirit of Christmas that even he once possessed.

A warm, thoughtful narrator's voice recites pieces of Dicken's original novel throughout the show, sometimes detracting from the actors' ability to tell the story with action, but often giving the production a distinctive edge. The role might serve the show better with a live narrator on stage rather than a pre-recorded track from Ken Ruta. Ruta's vocal inflictions do not change enough during the darker moments of the show, but, overall, Ruta provides a wonderful way to draw the audience in. It's as if Dickens, himself, were telling the story, bringing the pages to life.

A quartet of carolers also moves the show along. They introduce the show along with the narrator, and their harmonious vocals help with transitions between scenes. Even those tired of Christmas carols can enjoy these moments. The carols are well sung and feel perfectly fitted to the show. At key moments, the rest of the cast joins in, filling Kelly James Tighe's raw, London-inspired scenic design.

The grand, but static sets keep scenes from seeming complete at times, but they beautifully complement the larger-than-life sensation that the Hoffman theatre stage contributes.

Tighe and director Scott Denison make perfect use of Marley's chains and sudden entrance. Dramatic lighting by John Earls gives Marley an eerie look as he struggles with his chains and two demon-like beings pulling him back to his cursed fate. Earls' talents also come into play during a fantastic black lit Christmas future sequence. Ryan Cowles manages to walk smoothly and flawlessly under the oversized Ghost of Christmas Future, a tall black figure with skeleton hands and a garment covered in leaves and other loose items.

Other special effects make the show different, such as when Christmas past's starry, white dress begins to shine, covered in lights. Kerri Shawn plays a bubbly, whimsical Ghost of Christmas Past, while Michael Ray Wisely adds an extra element of fun to the show as the Scottish-inspired Ghost of Christmas Present. Wisely's turn on stage is perhaps the most memorable of all. His puffy costume (designed by Michael A. Berg) and outgoing personality make him a matchless Ghost of Christmas Past in an interpretation of the character not likely to be found elsewhere in the bay area.

The bay area offers many wonderful renditions of "Christmas Carol" this holiday season, and many more exist throughout the U.S. Among them, Center REP's version must bet at the top. The classic play has become somewhat of a tradition for the company, and with such an exceptional staging, it's no wonder the play regularly sells out.


Through December 16
Center REPertory Theatre

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler