BWW Review: A CHRISTMAS CAROL at The Forum Theatre Company, A Biennial Wichita Tradition
One of the most well-known short stories ever written by Charles Dickens was "A Christmas Carol." Dickens began writing his second piece of fiction in October 1843 with a later December release date. At the time, he had a personal concern for underprivileged children who turned to crime in order to better improve their social status and wellbeing. "A Christmas Carol" follows one man, Ebenezer Scrooge-a miser, who undergoes four visits from ghosts who ultimately transform him into a man of charity, repentance and changed heart. The Forum Theatre Company concludes 2019 with their 7th production of the play now in its biennial session at 330 N. Broadway. Performances are in their final weekend Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Featuring new orchestrations and vocal arrangements, this show is your best bet for traditional Christmas live theatre entertainment here in Wichita.
Pre-show setup consists of a two-story set with a staircase ascending down towards centerstage by designer Ben Juhnke. Furthermore, there are hanging windows that give the space a modern, 3-D approach to the set which can be appreciated, however, pre-show music for my taste was too contemporary for the play at hand which featured songs such as "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." Christmas orchestrations like "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" may have been more appropriate and subtle to obtain harmonious storytelling. It was later neglected to be played during intermission. The pit orchestra itself also had trouble starting as well with the time signature being a bit under tempo. Eventually, music director Aaron Fink seemed to get the musicians up to speed with no further noticeable dragging throughout the performance. The first choral song "Listen to the Music" definitely shows recovery from getting the engine started with both orchestra and ensemble showcasing talented abilities in song and dance under careful choreography by Gigi Gans displaying her diversity in staging from the previous southern hand-jive musical Memphis to more classical musical theatre.
As the story progresses, we meet Bob Cratchit who represents the working man trying to get ahead who is played by a matured Ryan Ehresman. Ehresman's voice, acting, and serious approach shows the amount of dedication and hard work needed in show business as well the 'seasoning' process that occurs with out of town theatre work. While his counterpart Ted Dvorak (Fred and Young Ebenezer) sang wonderfully, an English dialect may have been a nice bonus. Ehresman's wife both on and off the stage is Chelsey Moore Ehresman playing Martha Cratchit who had lovely soprano notes particularly for her solo "Christmas Morning."
The first ghost Ebenezer Scrooge meets along his journey is Jacob Marley portrayed by P. Makar. Makar's commitment to acting was fine having obtained graduate studies in Oklahoma, but the song "Weary Journey" was a bit low for the female actress, normally played by a male. Later in act two, Paula Makar gets a higher pitched song for Old Joe as a Charwomen. Her most shining moment is the famed lined, 'mankind was my business' uttered with shear perfection.
Another ghost showing her performing diversity was Anjelica McRae Breathett who not only played the Ghost of Christmas Past, but filled in ensemble roles as well for Charwomen and solicitors. Breathett had a soaring operatic sound upon entering for Ghost of Christmas Past which was different than the belting sound we had heard in Memphis. The Ghost of Christmas Present was played by David Raehpour this go around having big shoes to fill from Broadway veteran Karla Burns. He does the task quite nicely amid a booming stage voice and strong acting choices which are actor union worthy. He especially has great dialogue and scene work with Scrooge during his vignette which has new staging in the audience. Eventually, the ominous Christmas Yet to Come comes from actor Sean Patrick Giestl who accomplishes the task of not saying a word but emoting the warning burial and death of Scrooge. Pay close attention again here for theatrical illusions in the set as the floor becomes a graveyard saving some technical kinks in lighting and sound design on opening night.
Finally, Shaun Michael Morse as Scrooge is a delight. The local actor is definitely made for the part especially during his revelation in singing 'you have given me my soul' in act two that stops time for a bit. My only word of caution is to choose appropriate times to back phrase during songs and not overuse the technique. Nonetheless, his change of heart in raising salary is quite fun and might be Tony worthy despite some upstaging from his Tiny Tim co-star Nova Stanley who gets the iconic final line, "God Bless us Everyone!"