By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review
It is with trepidation that the theater critic approaches a production seen annually for a number of years in a row. Such was the case with fourth annual production of Cygnet Theatre’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ story, “A Christmas Carol,” with music by Billy Thompson.
That’s the one where theatergoers remember the title character, whose name, Ebenezer Scrooge, has become synonymous with the word “miser” in the years since the Dickens novella first appeared in London in December 1843. The wealthy man is so wizened of spirit that when asked for a charitable Christmas donation he declares, “I cannot afford to make idle people merry.”
Over the course of four years, Cygnet’s production has morphed from a radio show format to a more straightforward telling with multiple narrators and musical refinements.
For instance, Thompson’s score, flawlessly played by music director/accompanist Patrick Marion, is laced with Christmas carols, both sung by the company in various combinations and underscoring the dialog and providing melodies for much of the sung text as well — not that the layperson will be aware of such intricacies, which set it apart increasingly from other “Carols” one might experience.
In other words, this presentation of the well-known Christmas story, performed by a solid acting/singing company, is quick, emotionally secure, musically satisfying and rich in imagery, clocking in at a bit over two hours and cutting the tale to its essence.
In other productions, sometimes the progression of ghosts — Christmas Past, Present and Yet-to-Come, all played by multi-talented David McBean — can grow tedious, and the joyous transformation of Scrooge (marvelously played by Tom Stephenson, one of the city’s finest actors) becomes mired in sorting things out between different groups of related characters. Not in Sean Murray’s adaptation!
Here, the primary emphasis is on the family of Scrooge’s employee Bob Cratchit (Patrick McBride) and his wife (Maggie Carney), whose youngest child is the frail, crippled and cherished Tiny Tim.
Nonetheless, onlookers get joyous doses of the Fezziwigs (Melinda Gilb and McBride) and also those all-important scenes that help us to understand how Young Scrooge (Charles Evans, Jr.) became Scrooge. He’d been engaged to Belle (Melissa Fernandes), who ultimately broke up with him when it became apparent he would never love her as much as he did money. All but Stephenson play multiple characters and the several talents of each — musical, dramatic and comic — are bounteously utilized.
The production’s most ingeniously utilized innovations are the puppets created by Michael McKeon, Lynne Jennings and Rachel Hengsy. Convincingly the puppets portray Tiny Tim, a Street Urchin and the waifs Ignorance and Want, who appear from under the skirts of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
Ignorance and Want signify Dickens’ empathy for the plight of child laborers caught up in the Industrial Revolution. Such social concerns are endemic of the great writer’s concern for humanity. Today, children are caught up in war, revolution, and closer to home, neglect.
Cygnet’s production of “A Christmas Carol” upholds Dickens’ legacy.
Beyond its sensitive and ever fascinating portrayals, it is graced with Katie Whalley Banville’s choreography, Andrew Hull’s scenic design, Jeannie Reith’s costume design (based on original design by Shirley Pierson), Kyle Montgomery’s lighting design (based on original design by R. Craig Wolf), Peter Herman’s wig and makeup design, and Matt Lescault-Wood’s sound design.
— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.