A wonderful new musical adaptation of the Dickens classic is now a tradition for Wichita audiences, and kicks off the first full season for Wichita's newest professional theatre at The Forum!
A review for A CHRISTMAS CAROL: Lucinda Dahliarimple, WTBN Tonight’s opening of A Christmas Carol, A Spirited New Musical, presented by The Theatre Company at The Forum Theatre was a splendid holiday treat full of music, dance, exceptional performances; and, incredible technical elements.
From the moment you enter the theatrical space, a feeling of Christmas and Dickens surrounds you. From the excellently decorated lobby to the carolers singing in traditional Dickens garb to the figgy pudding and hot apple cider offered for concessions before the production, I felt that I had stepped back into Victorian England with the sights and sounds of Christmas around me.
The show, deftly directed by Kathryn Page Hauptman moves along at a brisk pace and takes just a little over 90 minutes from beginning to end, without intermission. We see the rise, fall and ultimate redemption of this character that so many of us are familiar with, Ebenezer Scrooge.
Paul Jackson’s Scrooge is human....hard, defiant, resigned, compelled; however, you always have the feeling that there is some compassion underneath which makes his redemption believable, compelling, and heartwarming. The difference in his portrayal from other Scrooge’s this reviewer has seen, is that it is much more palpable, an exciting change and remarkably fresh performance for a character so well known by the majority of the adult population. His voice, strong and clear, brings chills to audience’s arms as he sings to his beloved Belle (played by Catherine Bartomeo, a beautiful young girl with lovely innocence and hope), his nephew Fred (outfitted in plaid and looking so completely positive and opposite of his cantankerous uncle), and the ghosts who help him find redemption.
As the ghosts, Ray Wills portrays Marley with complete power and portrays a man whose weary journey goes on and on. Full of desire for Scrooge to repent, his entrance is strong, a bit scary, and he never lets up as he commands Scrooge to beware and be ready for the ghosts of past, present and yet to come.
Cary Hesse is lovely and beguiling as the Ghost of Christmas Past. Costumed in white with beads and feathers, she is a beautiful and beguiling ghost taking a willing Scrooge backward in time to reminisce about his childhood, sister, love, and first employment experience. Her song, “Remember”, is haunting and beautifully sung.
Karla Burns, (a Tony nominated actress) as the Ghost of Christmas Present, is indeed a present...to the audience. Her song, “Celebrate” and her costuming in red and white, outfitted with decorative elements that look like little gifts all around and a staff that looks like it must be 10’ tall and weight 150 pounds, which she yields with incredible ease and uses as a comic element throughout. Her powerful voice, laughter, and comic moments bring a lightheartedness to this ghost that makes us believe Scrooge has little to fear, until she surprises him with the ignorance and want all around him that he chooses to ignore.
As the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Marina Fox is a lithe and scary spirit - enticing Scrooge to watch the dance of life as it happens all around him and her dance is a nice change to the arias of the prior ghosts. It keeps the element of surprise alive for us and for Scrooge.
Some other outstanding performances include Don Winsor’s Bob Cratchit....handsome, lilting, and soft, his Cratchit delights and allows the audience to feel the ultimate compassion for this man who finds joy in every sorrow. Megan Parsley’s Mrs. Cratchit is winsome and teasing, with inner strength and reprimand for her husband’s tolerance of Scrooge’s treatment. Ted Woodward is delightful as Joe, the Ragpicker and the three ladies (Katherine Randolph, Stephanie Dennis, and Megan Parsley) have a show-stopping scene and an engaging song. Dan Campbell’s Fezziwig is charming and quirky.
There’s fine work among the ensemble and the remaining cast with double and triple performances by several showing the talent amongst this finely assembled cast.
The set, by Ben Juhnke, is very fitting and encompasses the entire stage area feeling as though we are in a much larger venue than the intimate Forum Theatre. Lighting by Tyler Lessin is full of mood enhancing and illuminating moments which keep the pace of the show moving forward with ghost entrances and exits. Sound by Nick Smith had incredible effects that further kept the audience involved and jumping with anticipation for the next moment to happen.
The orchestra, conducted by Tim Raymond and in full view of the audience house left, had eery musical elements that encompassed the mood and enhanced this production greatly.
This reviewer is so pleased at all the theatrical Wichita Christmas offerings and can’t wait to see the other productions around town this month and review them. White Christmas, around the corner at The Crown Uptown, plays until December 23. Cabaret Oldtown is showing Crazy Christmas until December 22 and Shakespeare's MacBethlehem Christmas or Wherefore Art Thou Saint Nick? is playing at Mosley Street Melodrama until December 30. Watch for my reviews of those shows in the upcoming weeks; however, make sure you don’t miss this delightful offering at The Forum. It’s sure to become an annual tradition for Wichita’s audiences.