By Jean Lowerison
Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” may be the most adapted piece of literature around. A Wikipedia search lists 53 versions.
I’ve seen it countless times, but I’d never seen the 1994 musical version now on the boards at Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido. This one boasts music by multiple Oscar-winner Alan Menken (Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Little Mermaid,” “Aladdin”) and lyrics by Fred Ebb (“Cabaret”).
Fourteen actors portray 126 characters in the course of this one-act, 90-minute whirlwind of a show. Directed by Larry Raben, it’s busy, loud, fast-moving and utterly delightful — and even features a tap-dance number.
It opens with the cast all onstage, in various stages of undress (men in pants and undershirts; women in Victorian underwear and pantaloons), ready to jump into their costumes for the first scene. But first they will share pre-show announcement duty.
After that, they into the delightful nonstop performance of the old story we all know so well.
Rudy Martinez plays the grouchy old guy to the hilt, grumbling about prisons and workhouses and wishing those annoying fundraisers and carolers would just go away and leave him alone.
“Let the whole world be damned!” he grouses. “It has nothing to do with me!”
But don’t you know, that ghost of old partner Marley in your front door window will get your attention every time. This time is no exception. Marley (played magnificently by Winston Peacock) clanks around with those noisy chains and that unruly, nasty bird’s nest of hair, warning Scrooge to shape up, or at least to expect visits from three ghosts.
Sure enough, they show up to scare the bejesus out of poor old Scrooge, as he ponders a life wasted counting money rather than helping people.
The ghost of Christmas Past (JD Dumas) takes Scrooge back to his youth, his first job with young Marley (Hanz Enyeart) at old Fezziwig’s (Peacock again), and the girl of his dreams Emily (Shealyn Sailors), who sadly left him after he took money as his god.
But it’s Leigh Scarritt’s Ghost of Christmas Present you’ll remember, with that long auburn wig, the holly wreath in the hair, and her six dancers – splendidly decked out in red, green and gold with red and green striped tights – doing a tap routine.
This is the last show before the Welk Theatre closes for renovations, to reopen in September of next year.
Larry Raben directs this cheerful extravaganza with great élan and speed. The cast is rushing around like crazy, but they all look and sound like they’re having a great time.
You’ll have one too.
— Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.