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No humbug here

‘WCYG Playhouse of the Air Presents A Christmas Carol’
WHERE: Cygnet Theatre, 4040 Twiggs St. (Old Town)
WHEN: Wed. – Thurs. 7:30 p.m., Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 3 and 8 p.m., Sun. 2 and 7 p.m. through Dec. 30
INFO: 619-337-1525.
WEB: cygnettheatre.com

Cygnet’s ‘Christmas Carol’ an astonishing gift this season

By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Critic

Having successfully produced “It’s a Wonderful Life, a 1950s Radio Play” for six years running, Cygnet Theatre Artistic Director Sean Murray looked around for a new Christmas show this season. When nothing rang his bell he created his own, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” for the fictional New York radio station, WCYG. The “broadcast” is set in 1944 and the audience is in the same “studio” designed by Murray for “A Wonderful Life.”

The cast of ‘A Christmas Carol’ (Photo by Daren Scott)

This time, scenes from Dickensian England play in one’s mind, along with period sounds, costumes, little Ebenezer Scrooge’s school, and the accounting firm, Scrooge and Marley. The actors are clad in World War II-era chic, peplums, seamed hosiery and all.

“Marley was dead, … dead as a doornail,” intones radio announcer and narrator Freddie Fillmore (Jonathan Dunn-Rankin). We’re off and running as the estimable Tom Stephenson portrays the miserly, soul-shrunken Scrooge, he of “Bah! Humbug!” renown. Even when he’s portraying the actor who portrays Scrooge, Stephenson is in irascible character, refusing to interact with the others as they arrive, his head buried in his script.

Returnees are Jason Connors, who recreates the Foley sound design; Melissa Fernandes, who plays a series of characters including important women of Scrooge’s past, as well as Martha Cratchit and Tiny Tim; and David McBean, a versatile actor of many voices, who plays Scrooge’s nephew Fred and a fine Ghost of Christmas Present.

McBean is fascinating to watch as he morphs from one to another with mere facial expressions and a change in vocal register. I swear he grows more handsome before one’s eyes to assume the kindly ghost.

Those familiar with Dickens’ immortal tale know that dead Marley, having arrived Christmas Eve still dragging the chains of his mortality, causes Scrooge three ghostly visitations: the Ghost of Christmas Past, played by Cygnet newcomer Maggie Carney, Fernandes and musical theatre veteran Melinda Gilb – a trio forged in heaven – followed by the aforementioned, avuncular Ghost of Christmas Present, and then the tacit Ghost of Christmas Future (the scariest of all, entirely in the listener’s mind).

A grand addition to WCYG theatre of the air is beloved San Diego actor Tim Irving, who embodies a tender and touching Bob Cratchit, a lovable Fezziwig, and a frightening estate purchaser, Old Joe.

Each of the actors involved in this “Carol” is multi-wizard, instantly capturing the essence of character. The most astonishing gifts, partially because they are so surprising and new, belong to Cygnet debutant Carney, whose chameleon voice and presence provide unending delight.

But so do they all! Stephenson, as expected, is an excellent Scrooge. He has the gravitas, the sincerity and the joy for a miraculous transformation.

We know and appreciate such all-encompassing versatility, and appreciate most particularly Murray’s adaptation and direction, and Billy Thompson’s music. Shirley Pierson is costume designer; R. Craig Wolf, lighting designer; and Matt Lescault-Wood, sound designer.

Setting the piece near the end of World War II is genius as well. When WCYG talks about our boys overseas, we think of the men and women currently serving our country around the world, in many cases foregoing the pleasures and privileges we so take for granted, especially at holiday time.

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